- von Tora Söderlind
- Okt 28, 2011
In the last few weeks, the Orwellian-named new social media network ‘Unthink’ has tried hard to stir up interest as a real contender to the Facebook social media throne. The reason for Unthink’s brassy attitude in stepping into the ring with Facebook (and Google+) is that it’s confident in its punch: namely, the promise that it will not mishandle its users’ data. Unthink users- or ‘owners’, as CEO Natasha Dedis prefers to call them- will have control of their own data, which Unthink won’t sell on to advertisers. The idea is a clever one, especially in light of Facebook’s various recent data tracking misdemeanors, and the continuing data-tracking scaremongering stories in the media.
So far, online commentators have been fairly unimpressed- especially as the website was unreachable for part of the time of the potential buzz-build up. The video used to promote the social network, seemingly aimed at teenagers, is also not doing them too many favors. Rather unfortunately for Unthink, it reminded me of a spoof video poking fun at Google+ which did a much better job of hitting the current mood in promoting its (albeit fictional) new social network, ‘Not Google+’ .
What strives to be a call to action to rebel against the ‘data oppressors’ (Facebook, mainly, though Google+ gets a part in the clip as well) ends up feeling like a misguided and slightly creepy attempt to be part of the gang. Or, as AllThingsD put it: “the tone is not unlike someone ranting in a town square to try to attract followers to some new religious sect”. This attempt to stir up a social media teenage rebellion is reinforced by a strapline on the Unthink website proclaiming “We don’t need another social network. We need a social revolution”.
Though it’s easy to make fun (especially as, unthinkingly, Unthink chose to call themselves a non-word that had previously been used in a badly-received KFC campaign in 2009) , the spirit with which its founders have created Unthink- the cornerstones being ownership, privacy, security from unilateral term changes- is highly poignant in today’s data-fraught climate. Data is becoming increasingly important not least as a privacy issue for social networkers, but also as a crucial part of the development and use of online advertising, with data-informed behavioral targeting and re-targeting ever more common.
However, instead of turning its back on the benefits of using data for advertising- as Unthink is doing- and thereby stoking the fire of fear and ‘big brother’ element of online advertising, it would make more sense to focus on lifting the veil of misunderstanding between advertisers and consumers. As a recent Ad Age article stated, if the use of data, as well as the mechanics and benefits of tracking and behavioral targeting were better explained to consumers, they would not be as opposed to it. There needs to be clearer communication in order to better inform the online world. As the author of the Ad Age article rightly points out, the advertising industry has “even made ‘cookie’ sound like a bad word”- I believe everyone will agree that that’s not a good state of affairs.
At plista, our RecommendationAds use algorithms which analyze data from online users as they are browsing, tailoring the website content to the interests indicated and recommending other content the user might also like. These user-individual recommendations, put together through precise interest-based information, reduces the search effort of the browsing experience, bringing what the online user is potentially looking for or interested in right to their screen.
One can’t stop the web and all it entails, from social networks to online advertising, from evolving.
After all, even though Unthink may not sell its users’ data onto advertisers, advertisements are still present on the social networking site in the form of ‘iEnforce’. The idea behind this is that the user selects a brand to ‘sponsor’ their page- the only way to avoid ads completely is to pay. Call me selfish, but I would rather have the best of both worlds: free content, and ads tailored to what I am interested in, recommending new content that I perhaps would have missed were it not for those data-tracking algorithms. I’d say it’s time to ‘unthink’ what we think we know about data.
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