Social Media

#NoFilters. Social Media, Representation and Responsibility

No filters

It’s time we stop prefixing media with the word “social.” It’s media. It’s also a free-for-all, that’s both filtered and unfiltered. Everyone with an internet connection has access to the platforms and ability to use the applications of their choosing. Everyone is free to participate, create and communicate.

Everyday at BetaKit we get to celebrate, question, and sometimes deride, technology. Thinking about, talking with, and writing stories about the people behind the technologies empowering us to communicate in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago is an opportunity I’m grateful for.

For instance, it’s staggering to consider that we’re uploading and sharing over 1.8 billion photos each day according to KPCB analyst Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report (see slide #62). How tall would that stack of polaroids be?

Technology is more pervasive than ever. There’s a deluge of stories to share and sift through, and no shortage of shiny new gadgets to communicate or consume media with. Yet everyday I find myself thinking more about the meaning of representation. I ask myself about what representation means with respect to context; or how does representation come into play in terms of my understanding the relationship between an object or a subject. Most importantly, I think about how representation comes with responsibility.

It’s worth remembering, representation is the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else. It is through representation that people organize the world and reality through the act of naming its elements. Signs are arranged in order to form semantic constructions and express relations.”

Generate Kris Krug

Images coming from the filtering app Generate jumped off my Facebook feed one day. It was Galiano Island photographer and entrepreneur Kris Krug’s creative touch applied to TEDxVancouver that pushed me to thinking more the relationship between technology filters, representation, and responsibility.

Is the representation and therefore our relationship or understanding of a person, a group of people, a place or thing, impacted by the filters we apply to any medium – be it visually, through our choice of words, or the soundscapes we create?

Any images, words or sounds we digitize and submit to the public domain puts us in the position as both a creator and communicator. As a creator and communicator what is your responsibility? It’s one thing to misrepresent yourself, but it’s altogether another issue when you’re misrepresenting the world around you.

Using filters, or changing the appearance of an image is nothing new. The history of photography and film is one of alteration through development techniques, and using different materials such as paper and chemicals. The difference between then and now is cost and accessibility. Then, you had to be a professional or well-heeled amateur to own the equipment. I wonder if photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, or a National Geographic contributor like Jim Brandenburg would use #nofilter?

Think about it, photoshopped is now an adjective, but photoshop the application is barely 25 years old. As well, it originally cost $1000.00. Today we have sub ten dollar to free photo apps at the disposal of everyone carrying a smartphone. It was overwhelming scrolling through the app store at the number of photo-filtering apps; I quit counting at 35.

Instagram has over 200 million users, and you can apply filters to pictures with the mobile Facebook, Twitter, and native iOS camera app. So mainstream they’re the source of some great humour like this Oatmeal cartoon, and this YouTube video.

All joking aside, it’s important to think about representation as related to what we see. Consider the intent of what’s being created and communicated. Is there a relationship between representation and some form of truth and reality? Does the use of a filter make that person an agent of change? Does it potentially alter our relationship or sense of reality?

Generate Kinder Morgan Protest

Is some regards the filtering of a visual experience can be adding commentary to our reality. Are we filtering an angst or dissatisfaction with reality? Blurring the lines of reality? Could we also be representing a filtered sense of joy, marvel, or perspective of what could be better or more beautiful?

Science is largely about the study of objects, whereas much of what’s populating our media feeds are people, places, events, food, and funny animal tricks. I’m all for sharing the subjects of our interest, desire, and love. I’m all for using filters as a form of commentary or creativity.

When there’s a lack of rigour and thought behind what’s being represented, it then becomes a potential act of objectification. Simply put, our world needs less objectification. It’s at the root of so much tension, misunderstanding and anxiety that pollutes our conversations and narratives.

The tools of communication might be free and we’re all free to use them, but it shouldn’t mean we’re free use them free of responsibility. It’s worth pausing and asking “why am I thinking this, why am I saying it,  or why am I seeing it this way?” before pressing submit and post.

“How strange painting is, it delights us with representations of objects that are not pleasing in themselves!”
– Eugene Delacroix

Photographs courtesy of Kris Krug.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

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Taking Social Further: Exclusive Conversation With Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes

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June 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago. Still etched in memory is seeing that life size owl mascot for the first time working a room full of Vancouver startup folks. I thought 140  characters of micro-blogging was a bastardization of the English language, so why does the world need a dashboard for it.

In this case eating humble pie didn’t taste so bad. Turns out that early Summer night, the early stage startup Hootsuite walked away with the “Peoples Choice” award. My tune about Twitter also changed less than 6 months later as a co-founder of the visualization application Mentionmapp. Seemed like Twitter and Hootsuite might turn out to be something afterall.

Since closing a $165 million Series B financing the past 14 months has seen Hootsuite on a tear. With last weeks news of having raised $60 million in new private equity and debt funding their total outside financing is $250 million. Add in the most recent acquisitions of startups BrightKit and Zeetl, founder and CEO Ryan Holmes is guiding the company towards realizing his long time commitment to building a Vancouver company that’s making a big impact on the local ecosystem, and beyond. Plus he’s been unwavering in about creating a $1 billion (plus) Canadian tech company.

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With a rare stop over these days in Vancouver, and even rarer 20 minute window of time in his schedule, I was fortunate to share an exclusive conversation with Holmes.

“It’s been a great week, and great month and really good year. We’re excited to share that the company has doubled revenue, doubled valuation, over 10 million users, including 744 of the Fortune 1000 as clients,” he highlighted. With their existing investors joining this latest round, and a new Boston based investor (he didn’t comment on the Wall Street Journal reporting it being Fidelity Investments, nor the IPO rumours) Holmes thinks “it also validates their excitement for the business.”

The acquisitions are all about “building out the social suite.” Holmes sees the Hootsuite platform akin to what “Microsoft Office or Google Apps does for office productivity. We’re creating a suite of tools to help our clients manage social.”

Being on this aggressive fundraising journey, and experiencing the subsequent rocket like growth trajectory I asked him how tight he’s keeping the seat belt buckled.  “It’s been a real blessing to be able to participate in the huge evolution of the social business. It’s fantastic to be creating a great Canadian tech company and story.” He touched on his excitement for attracting some of this country’s best and brightest here working with the team and the product. Just as importantly according to Holmes is “seeing people have experiences that will last throughout their careers.”

As well, he talked about the notion of creating the ‘MapleSyrup Mafia’ saying “some of the folks from Hootsuite may go out and create their own product, or maybe even be acquired by us or others. Hopefully they’ll go on to create other Hootsuites throughout the country and really help build an even more vibrant tech community.”

Asked if he sees a societal relevance of social beyond being simply the marketers best friend, Holmes replied with an unequivocal “absolutely. It’s so relevant, I think that conversation thankfully for the most part has died. As we’ve seen Twitter and Facebook IPO for instance, I have little doubt that social media is here to stay.”

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Channeling my inner Marshall McLuhan, I pressed that beyond the medium being the message can social media be a medium of mobilization? “I think we’ve already seen this, with it being a spark of revolutions and contributing to the toppling of governments,” he said. “We’ve seen how much it can transform society. It’s not just a marketing tool, it’s a way we’re reorganizing and communicating societally. It’s a channel everybody’s paying attention to.”

Holmes added that “with both governments and protesters using our platform, we have an interesting and unique perspective to see how people communicate. get messages out, and bring dialogue to leadership and democracy around the world.”

Looking into the crystal ball, I asked him what he’s seeing in the future for social media. He mentioned how social commerce and social advertising two interesting trends. Furthermore he suggested, “just like search has become a blend of organic and paid, I think we’re going to see the same trend with social. There will be a blend of paid social, and organic social.” Holmes pointed out the Hootsuite is currently powering 5 million organic messages a day.

With offices open in London (UK), Singapore, and now looking at one in Latin America, and expanding Vancouver operations, Hootsuite continues to soar. On the strength of that overstuffed owl mascots tiny wings, Holmes and his team have carried themselves well beyond what many people probably imagined this past five plus years.

The Wise Owl Talks with the Space Cadet

They were introduced as the rock star astronaut and social media giant. Colonel Chris Hadfield and Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes kicked off the inaugural Innovators Speaker Series event forScience World at the TELUS World of Science last week.

Hadfield shouldn’t need much of an introduction, but it’s worth noting that he’s the pioneer of many “firsts” in Canadian space history. That includes: the first Canadian to use the Canadarm; the first Canadian to board a Russian spacecraft; the first Canadian to perform two spacewalks as a mission specialist on STS-100; and the first Canadian to command the International Space Station (ISS). He’s also currently promoting his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

Meanwhile, most of Canada’s technology community is familiar with Holmes’ efforts as the CEO of HootSuite. Beyond changing social media management for over seven million users across six continents, he’s also an authority on the social business revolution. Holmes further serves the community as an angel investor and advisor, mentoring startups in Canada and around the world.

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While he wasn’t the first to tweet from space, he’s certainly prolific with his 140 character musings, so it seems only fitting for Hadfield and Holmes to have a conversation about  science, space, the power of music and social media.

The evenings host, Riaz Meghji, had them each reflect on a conversation that proved to be of early importance in life. Holmes spoke about a Grade 12 teacher relating the story about 15th century workers throwing their sabots (wooden shoes) into the wooden gears of textile looms to break the cogs, fearing the automated machines would render the human workers obsolete.

Sharing the origin of the word saboteur, Holmes said that “change is inevitable, so throughout my career I’ve thought about the resistance to the change of technology, and tried to adopt it, embrace it, and be on the frontside of the wave. I think that has really stuck with me.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when Hadfield revealed that “two guys named Buzz & Neil” were his inspirations.

He spoke in revered terms about the first lunar landing. Above all, he said was “their conversation and making the decision to find a new landing place, in spite of limited fuel. It was a lifetime of building the knowledge, awareness, and professionalism that allowed them to find safe place to touch down. They only had 16 seconds of fuel left.”

With Buzz and Neil averting disaster and announcing “the eagle has landed”, Hadfield’s deciding against extraordinarily long odds to become an astronaut was set. His advice for what it takes to become an astronaut is pretty good lifestyle advice in general. He says “take care of your body. Eat smart and exercise a little; get an advanced education; practice decision making. The more decisions you choose to make the better you’ll get over time.”

Holmes asked if space tourism is realistic? As Hadfield pointed out “private citizens have paid up to now some $30 million to go, including the founder of Cirque du Soleil who bought a ride with Russians. He spent six weeks training in Russia to fly aboard Soyuz. As well, you’ll soon be able to spend $250,000 and fly Virgin Galactic to get the sense of weightlessness.” Hadfield likened the future of spaceflight being an everyman experience to that of the history of buying an airline ticket. One day it will be commonplace.

Hadfield asked Holmes about how business plays an important role in the community, noting that it’s not just about being a revenue generating endeavour. Holmes shared his excitement for launching a new foundation, The Next Big Thing, which “is about the discovery of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Ten 17-18 years olds (who are probably asking themselves what’s next?) will be given the opportunity to discover anything from a new twist on the lemonade stand to a new software idea. We’ll get them set up at Hootsuite HQ, and connected with a bursary to lessen the risk, and with mentors who will help propel their ideas forward.”

Crediting his nephew for the question, Holmes line of scientific inquiry moved to a little body function junction when asking  “what happens when you fart in space?“ Hadfield had some fun, and patiently offered that “gravity won’t let you burp in space.” You can reverse engineer the answer to gas, as he further suggested that “it’s non-propulsive, which is likely result of poor nozzle design.”

With almost one million Twitter followers (@Cmdr_Hadfield) (and a YouTube success with his remake of Space Oddity, garnering over 19 million views), Hadfield doesn’t just talk a good social game. He thinks the popularity of the video is because it  “crosses over between the fantasy and the reality of spaceflight, and gets people thinking of what’s going on in the Space Station.”

At one point it seemed as if Hadfield was actually channeling Holmes, when talking about social media having to be a social experience. He suggested that you need to really care about what you’re communicating with 140 characters. It’s an opportunity to engage in meaningful thought and the exchange of ideas..

However, appreciating the sight of our planet from space Hadfield leaves us all with the most important thought to ruminate on, simply saying, “we’re in this together. “

This story originally appeared in BetaKit