How Social TV Can Make The World A Better Place
I’m not a Social TV expert. Not even by the most liberal application of the Gladwell 10,000 hour rule can anyone be considered a true expert. I am, however, a lover of television and there’s no doubt I’ve surpassed the expert mark in terms of consuming and talking about TV. I love TV, and I don’t mean love as in, clicking-a-button-on-a-Facebook-post, or love as in a-cuddly-cat-meme. No, I mean love like, the-glowing-cathode-nipple-of-TV-gave-me-sustenance-as-a-child love. (Please don’t tell my sainted mother I said that - though I’m actually not exaggerating too much.) In fact, in the however many years since moving away from my childhood Texas home, I’ve often referred to my parents as “Ward and June,” my childhood neighborhood as “safer than Mr. Roger’s,” and my high school as a “middle class, redneck version of 90210.” Without TV, I’m not sure I’d even know how to describe such a sickeningly sweet, awesome, milquetoast existence. TV metaphors are simply one of the most effective, clear, and universal methods of communication. (If you told me you “ran with cats like Bodie and Poot,” for instance, I would clearly understand that your childhood was vastly different from mine.) We all do this; communicate through our shared TV experiences. And this method of communication does something else too - creating what might be the most valuable of all human currencies: Social Currency.
But wait – we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Putting the cart in front of Mr. Ed, if you will. Let me explain what I mean by Social Currency, and how I came to the following definition of a Social TV experience.
A text message amongst friends about a TV show. This is still the most meaningful (and completely overlooked) Social TV experience. Anyone you text, is, by definition, already a close associate, and therefore a social transaction of some value is intrinsic to the experience. This person is close enough that they allow you to have their phone number, close enough that you can expect a meaningful reply from them in response. It’s a shared experience discussed amongst your closest social circles, which just happens to also be both accruing and disseminating your Social Currency. Call it tribal credit, if you will. The type of currency that results in highly satisfactory interactions and engagements. The type of engagements, on the most basic human level, that help to obtain sex, money, and knowledge. Not stickers, a Gap coupon, or a free latte.
Contemporary Social TV behavior evolved 140 characters at a time, and even the little blue bird didn’t call it Social TV at first. Nobody did. Yet without a label, the behavior quickly became a large part of the fledgling micro-blog site, gradually weaving itself into the thought process (and #graphicspackage) of every major TV content creator. (Some quicker and better than others, but that’s a completely different rant.) While Twitter was not created strictly with TV in mind, it has become the best outlet (despite certain square peg/round hole aspects) for accruing your social currency, while simultaneously allowing you to “watch” a show with Kanye West and Aziz Ansari, whose phone numbers you most certainly do not have. (And if you do have Kanye and Aziz’s phone numbers—I’m looking at you James Murphy—please insert your own example.) The fact is that not everyone uses Twitter. And in order to get the most out of your Social TV experience, even those who do engage regularly in 140 character discussions must presently resort to an additional combination of MMS messages and email (thanks Dad), in order to include everyone. RT@confusedhumans #techlanguagebarrier
Yet within this amazing new “revolution,” the apps and platforms not named Twitter that reside on the Island of Misfit Social TV Toys do nothing to further the accrual nor dissemination of Social Currency via the shared television experience. These apps merely create Social Pollution and Social Exhaust that is then spilled into the rivers of our core networks or inhaled into our digital lungs at the behest of another platform, all in the name of discovery. Discovery should not be limited to a digital report card of consumption.
What is Social Pollution? Social Pollution occurs when a user (wanting desperately to participate in Social TV behavior) updates or pushes short content 37 times in an hour about The World Series while only 40% of his friends and followers even like baseball. (That is a liberal %, btw.) These updates pollute the timeline of followers and friends that only care about your take on startups, underground hip-hop or NYC subway etiquette. So if you want to live-share a rerun of The Killing, your percentage of interested followers will decline and the pollution toxicity grows quickly. And though this problem persists and is inherent to social networks, simply acknowledging it will not decrease anyone’s desire to share their thoughts on a show or event they are passionate about. (The Killing is underrated, in case you’re wondering. Despite the season one let down.)
Social Exhaust (a term and definition coined by a fellow iBubblr co-founder) stems from the constant combustion of other user’s check-ins, status updates, stickers being “unlocked” (what does that even mean?) and the seemingly endless single action shares. What is social about just seeing that your friend is watching The Walking Dead anyway? Let alone that they have received a special sticker to commemorate the occasion. All we have here are users planting metaphorical flags then shouting in our digital ear holes. These virtual trophy cases do not translate into our offline lives in any meaningful way. Try telling an attractive woman in a bar that you have unlocked all of the Mentalist stickers and see if that gets you anywhere. Your vast collection of “Limited Edition” American Idol badges is probably not going to score you many points in a job interview. The 40% Off coupon for motor oil you received by syncing your iPad to the NBA playoffs? Well, that’s worth 40% Off on motor oil.
So why does any of this matter? How can a bunch of people talking about TV make the world a better place? Shared experience amongst tribes can be traced back as early as the cave paintings in Chauvet. As human animals we are blessed with the gift of higher thought and expression. To express ourselves merely via a digital pop culture scoreboard—denoting stickers, coupons and “likes” as a representation of who we are—cheapens our existence. Meaningful discourse is reduced to cutesy pixels and cyber touchdowns with complimentary endzone dances and slo-mo highlights. Can we as a culture become better thinkers (and thus a better society) by merely inhaling the fumes of our friend’s previous behavior? Can we leave this world a better place for our children (think of the kids, damn it!) by erecting monuments to our own consumption? Did the first viewers of paintings on rock walls of Chauvet rush back to their tribe and simply proclaim they had seen it? “Tell the tribal council! I’ve unlocked the ‘Running Buffalo’ sticker!” No, they didn’t. And the epicenter of the American living room has been a series of moving cave paintings for our tribes to engage with and discuss since the ‘40s. We have to strive for evolution in the digital age. A better place. More meaningful interactions. Not an overwhelming sea of hashtags, polls, check-ins and “likes”. Have you ever unlocked anything you thought was actually worthy of being locked in the first place? A truly social experience facilitates engagement; it doesn’t just report and score it. It gets out of the way. It doesn’t stand in front of the flickering video stream of metaphorical running buffalo and scream at you, ask annoying questions, nor pollute the networks of your fellow tribal members.
Ideally, a Social TV platform itself should virtually disappear; its job in facilitating meaningful conversations at the forefront. It should allow users to create and accumulate Social Currency. It should allow for meaningful discourse around shared experiences. It should further the pantheon of knowledge around our shared cultural content. Most importantly, it should empower users by giving them a voice in the discussion and access to other members of the tribe who are also adding meaningful content, including the writers and creators themselves, along with celebrities, athletes, artists of all types, comedians, critics and even elected officials. Such an ecosystem would grow an important conversational data set, it would create social moments worthy of planting in other networks, thus leading to authentic, organic discovery of shared tribal currency, as well as a searchable resource for countless uses. Small, digital conversations that are documented and well-curated (which is to say people who are connecting together under a singular platform that is focused only on TV) would make the world a better place. The power to grow is in the conversations. It’s time to put the Social in Social TV.
This is why we started iBubblr.
Live Long and Prosper,
Jeff Schroer, Co-Founder of iBubblr.
I invite this conversation to continue anytime via email firstname.lastname@example.org on twitter @Stottle or in person. (I’m the guy built like Gilligan with Mad Men era glasses and Dobie Gillis chin hair.)
*A gracious THANK YOU to my editors Co-Founder Amanda Gross-Tuft, Co-Founder Unity Stoakes and Advisor Joshua Ewing Weber. Without whom this would have been just a poorly written, angry, two-paragraph blog post.