Posts filed under “Disruptive Technology”

Tribes, Flocks, and Single Servings – The Evolution of Digital Behavior

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships we form online. One of my favorite things to do is to deep-dive within various online communities, exploring their culture, rituals, and habits. From obscure fandoms and hobby groups to lifestyle forums and hashtag movements, I’m always fascinated by the ever-changing nature of our online interactions.

As our online behavior becomes more complex, I’ve found the term “online community” to be an inadequate and limiting way to describe the pockets of activity that I was seeing. I started playing around with different frameworks to help me spot emerging trends and behaviors. After several iterations, I decided to concentrate on the two elements that were consistently the most useful: Engagement Length and Intimacy Level.

I focused on these two elements because they were actions that weren’t limited to a specific platform. Different groups use various social networks in different ways and calling something “a Facebook group” or “A message board” was not an accurate representation of the intent or purpose of that particular community. Digital spaces also possess an inherent fluidity that allows groups to evolve over time, and I wanted to be able to map that change as well.

I created a framework that has been helping me capture the spaces that I’m tracking. It’s still evolving so it might change as I continue to use it, but for now it’s been very useful.

Here are the categories that I’ve been using so far:

TRIBES: High Intimacy/Long Term Engagement

This represents an online community with a deep and vibrant digital culture. There’s a shared history, unique vocabulary (group-specific acronyms/memes/inside jokes). There is a longevity to the community that exists even if there is a frequent level of membership churn. Participants are highly engaged and active.

A good example of tribes would be very active fandoms where participants know each other (online), Gaming Guilds, and Facebook groups that are focused on a specific value or activity that is not time-specific (like a book club or fitness support group). This also includes networks like TheThousand Network and Summit Series that bridge the gaps between online and offline spaces as well.

ECOSYSTEMS: Low Intimacy/Long Term Engagement

Long-term engagement without the accompanying intimacy falls into the next quadrant, ecosystems. Ecosystems are the broadest base of digital platforms. They provide the space to capture engagement but aren’t directed or anchored by a specific goal or value. This is where I believe social networks in general fit in. I would consider my Twitter feed to fall within this category: I am connected to a lot of people, I’ve been on the platform for a few years, but I wouldn’t categorize my engagement as being highly intimate.

Some people will argue that Facebook is more of a tribe, and that I would say it depends on usage. I think it was originally intended to be a tribe-based platform, but with friend lists now reaching the thousands, it has evolved into an ecosystem that supports various tribes in the form of groups and pages. It does depend on usage?—?if you have cultivated a small and intimate list of friends then it could serve as your tribe, and that could be mapped accordingly.

FLOCKS: Hight Intimacy/Short Term Engagement

Flocks represent short, intense busts of high intimacy interactions. They are most often characterized by current events that trigger an emotional response from the public. During a Flock, a collective and temporary movement is created online as users share, comment, and create content based on the subject matter. The initial swell eventually dissipates and stops being discussed all together.

I should note that the emotional response doesn’t always have to be serious! These interactions are categorized by an intense but temporary alignment with a collective audience.

The most common manifestation of a Flock is usually through the use of a time-sensitive hashtag that goes viral. Last year, some of the most popular flocks that were spotted included:

  • #JeSuisParis/#PrayforParis after the horrific terror attacks in Paris last November. (I wrote about Digital Culture during times of crisis here.)
  • #LoveWins was used by people all over the world to celebrate the American Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in June of 2015.
  • Some might remember the bizarre viral incident that happened involving a specific #thedress that confused and shocked the digital world as factions debating #BlueandBlack versus #WhiteandGold.

Another characteristic of a Flock are memes that are created in response to these events. A good example of this is the frenzy that erupted when Leo DiCaprio finally won a Best Actor Oscar.

SINGLE SERVINGS: Low Intimacy/Short Term Engagement

These digital spaces focus on exchanges that are transactional in nature and usually only occur once, leading to a low level of digital intimacy. Most common versions of these include review-based sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp, and digital sales platforms like Etsy or eBay.

Understanding the Continuum

For me, the most interesting part is the overlap and changes that occur on this map. For example, #blacklivesmatter started as a Flock (through the use of #Ferguson, #Charleson, and #BaltimoreProtests hashtags) and is now transitioning closer and closer to the Tribe stage as people start to form relationships and build movements around this civil rights cause.

Another interesting example is the r/relationships subreddit where users post about their problems and ask for advice from the community. Despite the anonymity, the posts are usually very intimate and revealing, however the interaction itself is quite transactional. There is some continuity with people posting updates after they’ve received advice, but usually people vanish afterwards, and some even delete their post. So despite the perceived high intimacy, the norm of creating a “throw away” (an account that you create just to post in this forum, versus the main account that you use on the site) would indicate that this is a Single Serve.

I’ll be posting more of my findings and research in the upcoming weeks as I continue to refine and tweak this framework, and would love to hear your thoughts.

If you’ve found this post interesting you might also enjoy my monthly newsletter where I share research from my current projects, as well as talk about digital culture, creativity, productivity, and tech. Here’s one I wrote about Leo’s Oscar Meme frenzy. And one about Abe Lincoln’s use of the world Hustle. Happy reading!

Paris Under Attack: Digital Culture in Times of Crisis

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

The Paris Attacks demonstrate the influence and impact of digital tools during a time of crisis and identify clear ways that technology is changing our responses, reactions, and behaviors.

Over the years, I have identified five stages of digital culture that take place during a crisis as a part of my broader research on how we can use technology to improve our responses during these tragic events.

This post will outline each of the five stages and explore how different stakeholders (Government, Citizens, Media, and Technology Companies) act during each phase.

Sketch done on Paper iPad app

1) First Awareness: “Is something going on in Paris?”

The first phase in the digital crisis curve is the shortest, it represents the initial realization that something out of the ordinary is taking place.

The hyper-fluidity of information is reflected in a rapidly evolving set of hashtags that capture our attempts to piece together an understanding of the situation from a diverse set of sources.

On the evening of Friday the 13th, the hashtag #parisshootings was one of the original tags that originated and was quickly replaced by #parisattacks as more details about scope of the attack emerged.

Early hashtag describing incident as shootings.

For citizens using digital media tools, this early phase is characterized by information-seeking posts of a questioning nature. (“I’m hearing sirens around République, does anyone know what’s up?”) By now, media outlets have been alerted to an active situation and will dispatch reporters to the scene and set up event live blogs.

The significance of this phase lies in our behavior as information consumers to turn to social media as a first point of interaction with the crisis. In many cases, tweets are the digital first responders, and the platform becomes the source of raw, real-time information. We are drawn to the drama, and are willing to trade unverified information in exchange for up to the minute updates.

The role of hashtags also highlight our appetite for broad, real-time coverage. Searching for trending terms allow us to easily go beyond our feed to follow the conversation wherever it might be happening. Twitter is built on the notion of content curation from a trusted network, and hashtags enable us to temporarily break free from these social constraints and find people based on their relationship to the relevant information. It’s an agile type of temporary informational connectivity that becomes incredibly useful during a crisis. Twitter’s moments feature also demonstrated a good way to filter information.

2) Informational Maelstrom : “There is something happening in Paris!”

Critical mass of awareness of the event is reached when hashtags become trending on popular sites, social media posts begin to go viral, and an the mainstream media begins coverage. We are in full blown crisis mode.

This phase tends to be the most intense and chaotic, as it’s characterized by an abundance of information (sometimes conflicting, often unverified) as people scramble to understand and share information.

In many cases, this phase happens as the crisis is still occurring, and the sharing of facts and figures that can change in an instant creates confusion, panic, and fear. The hashtags for the event are well defined and used by the majority of individuals, media outlets and governments (#parisattacks, #attentatsparis). We also see a surge of new information as the focus of covering the crisis expands to include logistics and personal appeals.

Once the locations of the attacks in Paris became public, people from around the world scrambled to track down family members and friends. On Twitter, #rechercheParis was widely used by those seeking the whereabouts of loved ones.

As the city went on full alert, public transportation closures and venue evacuations left many people in the affected areas stranded and unable to get home. #portesouvertes emerged as a quick, citizen-led response to connect those with apartments nearby to those who needed shelter. At it’s peak the tag was mentioned in nearly 7,000 tweets per second.

Airbnb sent out an email to all of their French members saying it would waive hosting fees and launched a disaster response page to help people in urgent need of accommodation, and Parisians kindly offered strangers their hospitality.

Airbnb Disaster Response Page

Content showing some of the first eye-witness accounts of photos and video clips (such as this viral video showing victims as they ran to escape from the Bataclan) gained wide traction and traditional media coverage, including a high volume of retweets and shares.

One of the biggest wins for technology during the attacks was Facebook’s“Safety Check” feature. Originally intended as a response for natural disasters, the feature enabled those who were in the affected area (determined by geolocation or current city setting) to quickly mark themselves as safe. It was like a digital attendance-taking, much to the relief of family and friends. In the first 24 hours of activation, 4.1 million Facebook users marked themselves as safe, reaching over 360 million people.

The effectiveness of this widely praised technology is a reflection of our extensive and digitally connected social circles, especially those nuanced weaker connections. My immediate family and close friends reached out to me via Facetime, SMS, phone or instant messaging apps. Extended family and friends, colleagues, and those hard to define acquaintances that cover the spectrum from people I went to grade 3 with and that guy I met at a conference once- all reached out via Facebook making the safety feature the perfect way to share the most relevant piece of information at that time: I am ok. I am safe.

It was a great relief to me to see those little green checkmarks as well. Living close to the affected area, I immediately started my own round of outreach and being able to see who was already marked as safe was a great comfort during a period of anxious uncertainty.

At this point in time, media coverage becomes short, frequently updated posts that serve as a frontline for verifying and confirming information amidst the chaos, an essential task that leverages an institutions credibility to create a narrative to make sense of what’s going on. Before the ease of digital publishing we would have had to wait for the next day’s newspaper, but thanks to a constant news coverage, we were able get a clearer picture of the events as they unfolded.

During the Paris attacks we knew there were several different sites that were hit, an emerging hostage situation and that many people had been killed. Information is still changing as journalists have to contend with changing facts, for example the death toll fluctuated between 40 and 200 people over the course of Friday night.

Further highlighting the influence of digital media during times of crisis, government and police stepped in quickly to ask the public to refrain from live-sharing the movements of police forces, especially during on-going operations as it could not only alert suspects but could jeopardize the safety of hostages and the general public. Users on Twitter, Facebook, and Redditwere instructed to not post or share this type of information, a reflection of our connected information ecosystem and the instantaneous nature of social networks.

Governments also turned to social media to circulate important information such as the numbers for embassies in Paris for tourists, airport shutdowns, public transportation disruptions, border closures, and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Hollande. The French Government also introduced a website where people could give tips about suspects.

3) The Narrative Peak?—?“The Paris Attacks have killed 132 People. Responsibility was claimed by Da’esh.”

The Narrative Peak occurs once the event has maximum digital exposure and the active crisis has passed.

By Saturday morning, the main facts of the attacks were widely known including officially confirmed details such as the number of attackers, number of victims, etc. Media coverage shifts from breaking news to analysis and in-depth coverage.

4) Digital Solidarity and Shared Grief?—?“This is how I feel about what happened.”

The Narrative Peak is followed by shows of solidarity and emotional reactions to the events that have transpired. On Twitter, #prayforparis quickly became a leading term for sending condolences from around the world across a variety of mediums. Other tags included #memepaspeur (not even scared) and #jesuisparis (I am Paris.)

Nuanced representations by several communities evolved as well, adding their own unique commentaries. #Iammuslim was a popular tag where members of the Muslim community condemned the attacks and distanced themselves from the radical extremists, revealing the unease and fear in the potential blowback and retaliation for these events (like this. Or this.) Interestingly, #jesuisjuif also emerged from the Jewish community to draw parallels between the Paris attacks and similar attacks in Israel. Finally, many people adding #beirut to tweets about the attacks, making the point that they felt the recent attacks in Beirut (Over 4o people killed) did not receive the same type of media attention and global outpouring of support.

One image of the Eiffel Tower as a part of a peace sign by French artist, Jean Jullien become one of the most recognized symbols of the Paris Attacks and has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

User-generated media such as this video of French Exchange students singing their country’s National Anthem in New York, show a deeply personal and intimate view of how different people paid their respects.These elements create socially connected movements devoid of proximity, and show the unity of a global digital population. The twitter account@parisvictims , shares information about each of the victims. It’s a powerful way to forge a connection about the people who have died, beyond just the numbers.

Media stories now reflect personal accounts and human interest pieces (you can listen to my story on CBC’s MetroMorning here.)

The images and videos provide a powerful show of support without words: famous monuments lit up in France’s colors, snapshots of vigils from around the world, tweets and posts as people share their own memories?—?all unite people through technology in their grief.

The hacker collective Anonymous, have also declared war on Daesh, in retaliation for the attacks and has already taken down the accounts of5,500 twitter handles with links to the extremist group.

Technology companies also showed their support. The Uber app showed all available cars with the colors of the French Flag. Google showed a black ribbon on their home page, and offered free calls to France from Hangouts. Facebook provided another nifty feature to show solidarity by enabling users to add a French Flag overlay to their profile picture, complete with expiry date.

Cynics might sneer at the seemingly superficial gesture of changing a profile picture or adding a hashtag to a tweet, but as someone who is still reeling with shock, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the images of support from around the world.

People from Mumbai send their love

5) Ramp Down. “Let’s move forward.”

The ramp down hasn’t fully happened yet. It normally takes place after the first official ceremonial acknowledgement of the event that has taken place. In Paris, it will most likely be later this week as people gather in public spaces to mourn and grieve for the victims.

This phase signifies a shift from mourning to moving forward. Profile pictures return to normal, hashtags no longer trending, and people’s posts turn to the next media story. This will depend on the location, as in France one can expect this phase to last a lot longer than in other countries.

In Paris, #openbistro has been one of the earliest tags to pop up encouraging people to support local businesses despite the feelings of fear and uncertainty that linger. The media will cover more stories about the victims and longer-form essays will be published to look at the broader implications of this attack on politics, policy, and general sentiment.

Together We Stand

This last week in Paris has been horrible. I am devastated by the loss of life and am struggling to emotionally make sense of it all?—?though I doubt I’ll ever understand what drives a person to such a level of hatred. I am also saddened by the anti-refugee rhetoric that I’ve seen pop up on social media.

Let’s all remember that these people are fleeing the evils of Daesh too. Syrians have been experiencing this level of atrocity for the past four years. If you don’t believe me, check out this recent report from the WHO that estimates there are over 25,000 newly injured Syrians EACH MONTH. It breaks my heart to think of the horrors one must face before risking their lives and leaving everything they’ve known becomes the better alternative.

Technology has connected us to each other at an unprecedented scale. My research focuses on the emergence of the first Global Digital Culture and how we are experiencing events collectively within this new connected ecosystem.

Yes, there are some who will use this technology to spread hate and lies, but it’s brought me tremendous comfort to know that there are others like me who are out there?—?who want to use these tools to help and support each other.

Every time I find myself feeling sad about what happened, I turn to the Internet and know that somewhere out there someone is sending us love and hope. For now, that’s enough.

Free Download! ArchiTechs Volume 2

ArchiTech Volume 2

ArchiTech Volume 2


I’m delighted to share the second volume of ArchiTechs, an on-going series of long form essay that explores how individuals are leveraging new technologies to access a scale and scope of power that was traditionally reserved for large organizations and associations. The series explores how technology is impacting our daily lives. Volume 2, focuses on the evolution of online identity and outlines the phases of online development that got us to our current state.

We also discuss how countries like South Korea have tackled some of the challenges of allowing anonymity to exist online and some of the dangers that comes with too much transparency.




Download Red Thread | ArchiTechs Volume 02


If you like what you read, please consider signing up for my newsletter, since my subscribers received this two months ago! (I promised them they would get the good stuff first.)


When Robots Weep Who Will Comfort Them?

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

*** This is an excerpt from the June Issue of Red Thread’s monthly newsletter. ***






What if one day, someone told you that you weren’t human – but a sophisticated sentient machine that was engineered in a factory. Your memories, your emotions, your habits, your quirks – everything that makes you unique – are all just binary code running in the background of an advanced operating system. Would you still consider yourself human? (If you’re intrigued by this premise, check out Battlestar Galactica.)

This month, we’ve thinking about the complicated interactions that take place between humans and technology.

Scientists have been trying to isolate the characteristics that differentiate us from other species for hundreds of years. The addition of technology into the mix has only further confused the issue. Frombiometric contact lenses to implants that enable us to control artificial limbs with our mind – we are redefining our relationship with technology on two fundamental levels.


1. Looking Inward: How much machinery can we integrate into ourselves while still being human? 

In last year’s RoboCop reboot, the main character, Alex Murphy, must face his own definition of humanity when his consciousness is transferred into a robotic cyborg. He discovers all that is left of his physical self are his lungs, one hand, and most of his head. Let’s just say, he doesn’t take the news well. If you take away the flesh and bones of a man, what does he retain?
2. Looking Outward: What kind of relationships can we have with machines? 

A 2007 study reported that people who owned Roombas (small, autonomous robotic vacuums cleaners) developed deep emotional attachments to their device, including giving it a name, creating customized covers for it, and even rearranging the furniture to accommodate it better.

Soon, the technology will be smart enough to recognize and even reciprocate our feelings. David Levy, AI expert and author of “Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships predicts that by 2050 “Robots will have the capacity to fall in love with humans and to make themselves romantically attractive and sexually desirable to humans.”

In her book The Human Age, historian Diana Ackerman wonders whether machines can ever possess that intangible spark that makes us human.

Key quote:


[Robots] will never be embodied exactly like us, with a thick imperfect sediment of memories, and maybe a handful of diaphanous dreams.

Who can say what unconscious obbligato prompts a composer to choose this rhythm or that — an irregular pounding heart, tinnitus in the ears, a lover who speaks a foreign language, fond memories evoked by the crackle of ice in winter, or an all too human twist of fate?

I don’t know if robots will be able to do the sort of elaborate thought experiments that led Einstein to discoveries and Dostoevsky to fiction. Yet robots may well create art, from who knows what motive, and enjoy it based on their own brand of aesthetics, satire (if they enjoy satire), or humor.

Technical Literacy and Budget: 2 Hurdles for Big Data? [Amsterdam]


Thalys Train

This post is a part of my thinking around the concepts I wrote about in my latest book, “THE DECODED COMPANY: KNOW YOUR TALENT BETTER THAN YOU KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS.”  You can see some of my other thoughts about big data, organizational culture and talent management HERE

I’m currently writing this from the Thalys train that is speeding from Amsterdam back to Paris. I am marvelling at the wonders of the modern age: traveling between two countries (three if you count our stop in Brussels) is seamless and I am comfortable and happy thanks to roomy seats and free wifi. One of the main benefits of living in Europe has been access to these amazing trains systems. I always prefer trains to the security hassle of removing shoes and putting liquids in tiny plastic bags. 

I was in Amsterdam keynoting  an event, and the conversations I had with some of the attendees afterwards got me thinking. Data literacy and budget constraints are the two hurdles I hear about most frequently that are standing in the way of organizations interested in embracing the Decoded Model.


1. The Decoded Model is a Philosophy

The great thing about the Decoded Model is that it encompasses a unifying philosophy to integrate analytics, not just a tactical response. This means that you can have 10 companies who are using the Decoded Model in 10 very different ways. This isn’t a solution  you pull off a shelf and plug into your organization. It’s a very powerful resource that helps bridge strategic vision,  cultural objectives and analytics together in a cohesive and coordinated way. So if you’re a small team or a huge multinational, our thinking around people, technology, and culture can be successfully implemented.


2. Being Decoded is not binary: It’s a spectrum

For some reason, there is this weird, persistent belief that implementing Big Data initiatives is an all or nothing approach. This is not true! Being Decoded falls on a broad spectrum. A small team who is looking to implement Technology as a Coach to create customized learning is going to have a different budget and scale than a company with 30,000 employees seeking to do the same. They are both applying the principle but in very different ways. This is good news: it means that no matter what your constraints are there is a spot for you to become Decoded in a way that makes sense for you and your team. This goes double for your technical competency: you don’t have to know how to code or be familiar with databases and algorithms to get started. In writing the book, we made sure to include experiments and easy to complete tasks that addressed a variety of skill levels.


3. Money isn’t the issue.

The other big issue that gets mentioned quite often is always about money. Isn’t data expensive? Clients tell me that they don’t have the budget to invest in customized analytical solutions. Once again, budget is a constraint that falls on a spectrum. A small company with limited budget shouldn’t have to invest hundreds of thousands (or millions) into a customized platform. It doesn’t make sense! Instead, when looking at the Decoded Model know that there are many inexpensive or free tools that can help you get started without a large capital investment.

I should note that while there are a multitude of ways to implement data and analytics inexpensively, doing so will always require a significant investment of time: it will take awhile to familiarize yourself with the new and available tools and  to deeply examine your own systems and processes to spot areas where you can apply the Model. I wrote a few months ago about some easy ways for companies to track their productivity, that you can use to help you get started right away.


Don’t Psych Yourself Out!

The biggest hurdle is often a mental one: letting go our beliefs or assumptions about what we think big data and how we can use it to make better decisions. Remember, if you have a piece of paper and a pen – you can be Decoded. Know how to use an excel spreadsheet? You can be Decoded. Have a budget of $0? You can be Decoded.

Interested in applying the Decoded Model to your team? Check out my MasterClass.



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