The recent catastrophe at the Loveparade in Duisburg, Germany once again showed how Social Media has changed the way we produce and share information and thus how news are made today. Information has been democratized. No longer are we dependent on the information provided by the government or the nearest newspaper. News arrive immediately and right from the place where it happens. Information helps us mak better decisions. It is not far-fetched if some argue that tomorrow’s wars are no longer won by the better equipped army but by the better informed army.
To provide a better impression of the point I am trying to make here, I have simplified the events and grouped them into three stages: before the event, during the event and after it. In this order, I will discuss the role Social Media has or could have played.
Running Social Media analysis tools could have provided a good impression of how many people were expected to show up in Duisburg. As we all never „walk alone“, we ususally try to attend events with our dearest friends or at least with people who share the same interests as we do. Thus many of the guests used social communities and platforms to organize. They talked about the upcoming event on Twitter and in blogs and forums in order to inform themselves about the event. They searched for recommendations of experienced love parade goers to find out about how to best get there, where to spend the night, etc. Aside from all the hype and anticipation, there were also critical voices who no only spoke out their concerns but also wrote them down: in forums, blogs, social communites or on Twitter. Obviously they were not heard or not considered important (maybe the recent trend of crowdsourcing has not arrived in this segment)
Both aspects can be traced afterwards as „the internet does not forget things…“
Major events attract thousands of people. The closer you come to the center of action, groups merge with bigger groups, join the stream of people and become masses of people. And usually there is only one way: forward. One easily looses orientation and even has trouble staying together as a group.
Sounds as chaotic as an anthill at a quick glance. But ants do not collide. While the ants usually have total control of the situation, humans easily get lost. In fact many experts who deal with behavior analysis or traffic analysis ofte draw parallels to animal kingdom. Very often animals seem to have become experts when it comes to organize large numbers.
Humans also manage to get along. Take a big railway station or an airport for example. Thousands of people each with different destinations manage to get along without permanently crashing into one another. I experience this a lot. And it works perfectly fine. Individual distance is one of the phenomenon helping us to find our way. But there are limitations. As soon as the crowd is very heterogenous this automatic sense for passing by does no longer work. We see this on the autobahn (highway) or during rush hour in public transportation when everyday commuters meet people on a holiday trip, or when young dynamic people mix with elderly more slow people. Their different habits and speeds collide. The same goes for large audience who often due to small causes panic.
Is there a solution? Well yes, communication is one way. But as soon as a certain number of people is reached this won’t work anymore, there are simply too many people. Here cell phones and text messages but also microblogging services such as Twitter but also facebook for your phone could be of great help to communicate and to get rational objective information about what is going on. While in the Woodstock era you had no chance of sharing information with people in the distance, today many of us become real-time reporters, sharing their impressions by text, image or even video. These news are often very accurate and foremost, they are fast as hell. People report things as they happen.
And things happened in Duisburg. People attending the love parade not only broadcasted the fun and joy but also the fear and panic when all of a sudden there were simply too many people for a narrow tunnel.
This reminded me of Crowdsourcing, another buzz word in marketing these days and a technique often used to solve complex problems. While there are some who praise crowdsourcing to be the source of all solutions, others deem it to be inefficient and an illusion. Or in other words: the crowd is stupid so better rely on few experts. Now with the Duisburg loveparade case, one could argue that yes, the masses were stupid or behaved in an irrational and fatal way. Having put the decision into the hands of one single smart leader could have avoided the panic. Maybe. But how do you want to communicate in a group of several hundred thousand people and why should they listen and to whom? Impossible.
Also, crowdsourcing is a strategy that can be applied only to a certain fixed situation. It requires that you are free to choose between alternatives and also have the time to do so. In the case of the loveparade the crowd had no moderator or leader who organized them and could have filtered every single persons best strategy. Thre was no structure behind like when you ask 20 people to guess the exact weigth of any given person. But even when there is no framework, crowdsourcing techniques may work for a limited number of people. But without a framework, even Social Media cannot provide the necessary transparency to bring some order into the masses. In sum, there were simply too many people, they were in a state of lacking information or a lacking transparent information and their actions where impulsive, subjective and rather reactions. There was no control and thus panic.
However, Social Media did have a positive effect: it enabled people to use their cell phones and communicate to the braod public that something was going wrong here. In real time.
POST EVENT PHASE:
Merriness soon turned into madness. But even with all the sad events having happened, Social Media again plays a helpful role. It enabled people to contact their friends, discuss their impressions and thus provide first-hand information to the public. Forums and blogs as well as social networks enabled people to get into contact. Again, the fact that the internet has a pretty good memory turns out very helpful for the police and other institutions investigating the case. It is as if the whole area had been plastered with video cameras and paparazzi. User-generated content now becomes highly relevant material for the case. And there is plenty. „love parade 2010“ returns 7460 video results on youtube.com
Hopefully this will contribute to find out who is to be hold responsible for the panic.
As for the extreme speed at which Social Media travels, it raises the question if analyzing Social Media is not a mandatory element for major events. Just as major corporations and consumer brands should always keep track of what is being said about them. Maybe then, previous warning messages posted by people familiar with the Duisburg area or those who have participated in previous loveparades would have been heard and taken into consideration. As smart as the sum of minds may be, in a state of panic humans often behave irrational and counterproductive. Looking into animal kingdom may be of help to better organize masses. During an event the possibilities to control a group are limited. It is best to provide in advance options to escalate the event. And one should always take into account the worst case. As said before, masses are irrational…
I have been thinking about this for quite some time.
Then via Twitter I came across this Adage article about how the internet or let’s say digital media in general is having a desasterous effect on the auto industry.
Sounds far-fetched? Maybe, but there is truth to it as I will prove.
THE RISE OF CARS
Beginning in the early 19th century cars began to replace horse and carriage. Slowly but steadily, and as productivity improved and cars became more affordable (think of the Ford Model T), the success of automobiles could not be stopped anymore. Until now. Sure, cars have not yet been replaced by small convenient electric aircraft or such, but they are under pressure. From a medium no one could have imagined it would be a threat..
HOW THE CAR EMPOWERED US
Some 10, 20 or even 40 years ago, a car was the dream of any young man or woman. Why? It is a symbol of freedom, it allows you to move where you want when you want, and thus enables you to communicate in person with people living too far away to walk. It enables you to haul home goods that you bought elsewhere, it takes you to your job interview and it may be the romantic setting on a first date. You had to have a car or you where nobody.
Still the case today, you might say. Well yes, but only to some extent.
WHERE DID ALL THE DRIVERS GO?
The number of young adults who have no driver’s license is decreasing. Just as the article on adage.com nicely illustrates, this is no coincidence but rather a strong tendency away from the car. This does also apply to my personal network. People don’t get their driver’s license because they are unable to drive properly. No, they simply do not need it and save the money for other things. Coming back to the graphic in the adage.com article you should be aware, that in the U.S a driver’s license is very easy to obtain (financially and concerning the test – if this is good like that? Well the auto lobby surely would not want it any other way). To compare: in Germany an auto driver’s license can easily amount to EUR 1000. This would at least partly explain why less and less people get the license. However, for the US and that is the country the adage.com graphic refers to, it is no explanation at all.
Now why would young adults shy away from all the wonderful possibilities a car offers you? Do they no longer have the needs? They do. But they found an easier, more convenient, yet digital way to cover all the things mentione before:
-symbol of freedom
-go where you want when you want
-communicate in person with people living too far away to walk
-haul home goods that you bought elsewhere
-setting on a first date
HOW THE (MOBILE) INTERNET TOOK OVER
Internet and mobile internet via your cell phone allows you to be free. You can do anything at any time. From shopping for exotic products to watching a UStream livestream of a highschool basketball final.
You can virtually access any point on this planet via Google Maps and billions of photos and videos at your disposal. You want to see how huge the waves in Hawaii are – surely someone has been there and shares his photos, videos and impressions with you. The internet allows you to communicate with anyone in the world – whether you are somewhere in the Bavarian Alps or downtown Manhattan. Skype and other applications allow to even see each other live. You can literally purchase everything online. From a new car to groceries to a new movie – many goods even come with free shipping right to your apartment door. Job interviews or at least first level interviews can easily be undertaken via video conference. No need to drive60 miles just to find out the position is absolutely not your piece of cake. Dating today does no longer take a car to take the girl to the movies or the diner as we know it from the 50s and 60s movies. Instead online dating platforms have become highly successful and even come with a money-back guarantee (now how weird is that?).
And to some it up. While before identification happened via clothes, your car, your peers, this has considerably moved online. Today, teenagers as well as young adult identify themselves by their myspace or facebook profile, the type of cell phone they have and which b(r)ands they favor. As a recent Southpark episode nicely illustrated: if you have no profile and or no friends you barely exist.
Sure, you can also show off your car. But think of young people and how they are searching for their own identity via brands etc. An iPhone is much cheaper than a car, and very often today, a car does not impress as much as an iPhone, the latest apps or how many friends you have on facebook. Another aspect is that we tend to move to highly populated cities. Who needs a car, when you have some 50 different subway lines, another 50 bus lines plus the train system? You often do not even have the possibility to demonstrate your car to your colleagues because many times you do not know where you will be parking the next day (if there is no company parking lot). And lastly: cars cost you money even when they are standing in the garage. In times of economic uncertainties you would rather not invest too much into a car.
You may have realized that I have spoken of different groups of people i.e. potential consumers. Teenagers who are allowed to drive a car much earlier in the US than in Europe and then young adults and adults in general. The latter may still be the more easy-to-handle target group with a fixed value set in their mind and often times strong loyalty to auto brands (and their heritage). But ask the younger generation! Cars have become much more similar in recent years. It is not longer the US brand vs. Japanese brand fight. The market is much more diverse, intertwined and thus confusing for the consumer. Is Subaru American? Jaguar still British or really Indian now? Does the Mini Cooper really have a Toyota engine? And is it true that Japanes cars are built in the U.S. by U.S. workers?
This industry is chaotic.
AND FINALLY: CARS ARE BAD
The car today has lost some of its power. And the world has changed leaving less space for our cars. What I have not yet mentioned is the entire environmental issue. Cars today are considered harmful. They endanger our future and that of our children. New technologies are being demanded by the public. As the world around us has changed so cars have to change to maintain their role in our lives.
THE CONSEQUENCES FOR CARS AND AUTOMAKERS
What does the changed environment mean for automobiles?
-cell phone-like apps for the car
-connecting the digital sphere with the car sphere (colleagues may not see your car on the road, but on social networks)
-hybrid, e-cell, fuel cell and other technologies to take away the negative touch
-alternatives to owning a car, such as car-sharing
-mobility on demand, e.g. via a rental car when you need one
-cars and auto brands have to go online and into Social Media (Don’t loose touch of future target groups!)
-cars have to identify new „reasons why“ to persuade consumer to purchase a car
-brand facets such as sustainability have to be pursued and must be cemented as core brand facets
-auto brands have to make sure their brand can be understood by consumers
This video nicely deals with the issue of information overload and explains how we obviously increase the information management problem with every bit of new information. Wherever you look at, information is growing exponentially. Centuries ago we very well considered which motives to photograph – today we can constantly produce 4.5 images per second because storage space and the speed of data processing in a digital camera do not matter. But does it make the path to a good photo easier? Or do we just save time shooting and then spend more time scanning the 300 pics we took in just 10 minutes?
The video offers various thoughts about how we can possibly deal with the masses of information in the future and which direction the web will possibly go. The semantic web is just one of the concepts offered and it is also examined in this video. However, just like some experts in the 80s never believed in the mainstream success of a computer, we today have no imagination of what the web as we know it will develop into.
Take MySpace, Facebook and all the other social networking platforms. They improve the ability of millions of people to communicate with each other in just seconds. All this may be convenient, but what we all too often ignore is the enormous amounts of information/date that is produced behind the scenes. Just think of a simple change in your facebook privacy settings and how this affect the relationship (in terms of data) between your profile and those, say, 350 friends you may have.
Today the amount of servers Google is using is unbelievable! This reminds of the statement that popped up some time during the Gulf War: Future wars will be fought with information. While during the Cold War when Game Theory evolved, strategists where playing with the perfect answer issue today’s warfare strategist may possibly consider something totally different: spamming the opponent with information that he or his systems are then unable to process and thus paralyzing him like a venomous spider does with its prey.
From today’s point of view, I see no end to the tendency of exponential information growth. The question will be if we continue to be able to somehow grow our information processing tools at the same rate. Or if some day we will just not be able to keep up with the pace of information growth and simply surrender.
I know that was a little bit of Doomsday talk, but just consider! Now back to Facebook! 🙂