Three Lessons I Learned From Flappy Bird

Maurice Saatchi has this to write to the employees of M&C Saatchi – and the rest of the advertising world – about what he termed “The Brutal Simplicity of Thought:”

Simplicity is more than a discipline: it is a test. It forces exactitude or it annihilates. It accelerates failure when a cause is weak, and it clarifies and strengthens a cause that is strong.

Saatchi is known in advertising circles as the brains behind some of the world’s most successful ad campaigns. Things like “Labour Isn’t Working,” “Let’s Get Behind Scotland,” and the “Face” ad for British Airways. Then again, a developer named Dong Nguyen released a game called “Flappy Bird,” and is now a cause for celebration (perhaps even revulsion) among many mobile gaming fans.

Mostly because the game is hard. Damn hard. On my best day of playing the game, I got a score of 10.

I’m not a fan of writing “marketing thought leader” -ish pieces on my blog – for one I’m not, and for two most of these Mashable-y pieces are exercises in common sense – but “Flappy Bird” got me thinking about the lessons we can learn from the game. It can lend some order and perspective (read: sanity) into a world filled with “Let’s make a mobile app,” or “mobile should be a pillar for awareness.” Because sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t; most of the time, though, some things demonstrate the things we believe in most simply by doing.


The Social Media Desiderata

I wish to go placidly amidst the noise and haste and stuff like that, but I just can’t.

I wake up in the morning and check notifications on my phone.  My work involves making sense of all that noise in the virtual world, and often contributing to it.  I Tweet during meals, I Plurk in the toilet.  I blog while drinking.  Happiness is in being trending, in being an influencer, in being followed.

I’m at peace only when I’m retweeted or when my posts are being liked and shared on Facebook.

Okay, I’ll stop there.

Filipino homes share some common elements in the way of interior decor and design.  Like those tacky-looking “Weapons of Moroland” plaques.  Or reliefs of The Last Supper on hardwood panels, hanging by the dining room.  There’s the giant wooden spoon in the kitchen: having a giant wooden fork nearby is a sign of a bit of wealth going on for the family.

There are the cloth calendars bearing each family member’s name stamped in red: the cloth usually dyed black and finished in faux velvet, printed with some image of a tigress and her cubs drinking from a clear stream in the middle of the jungle.  There’s the roll-up bamboo mat of “Footprints in the Sand,” with brush-strokes that make the English verses look Oriental.

And then there’s the faded poster of the “Desiderata,” either tacked to the door of an aparador, or next to the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Because it’s supposed to inspire.  Because it’s supposed to be a blueprint to happiness.  Because sometimes you need to be reminded that the way you’re living life just borders on navel-gazing, self-flagellating self-mortification.

And since we’re the leading “social media nation” in the world, here’s my take on the poem:

Go placidly amid the tweets and Facebook posts
and remember what peace there may be in not updating it all the time.

As much as possible without surrender,
be on good terms with the people you’re following.
Speak your truth in just 140 characters;
and retweet others,
even the dull and the bot-like;
they too have their story.
Avoid spammers and aggressive commenters,
they are vexations to loading times.

If you compare your Klout with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always, there will be a point in time that you’ll be an influencer yourself.

Enjoy your social networks as well as your posts.
Keep interested in your own outposts, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing digital landscape.
Exercise caution in the things you click;
for the world is full of bad memes.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for quality posts;
and everywhere there’s something new to see.

Be yourself in comment threads.
Especially, do not feign intelligence.
Neither be cynical about the opinions of others;
for in the face of all stupidity and disillusionment
it is as perennial as “x is the new y” stuff from Mashable.

Take kindly the counsel of your peers,
gracefully addressing the questions of youth.
Nurture thickness of skin to shield you in sudden flame wars.
But do not distress yourself with feeding trolls.
Many fears are born of unnecessary Tweeting.

Beyond being popular or trending,
be gentle with your online self.
You are but a person with a computer,
no less than kids with computers and superstars with computers;
you have – and you don’t – have a right to be here.
And whether or not links are labeled “NSFW” for you,
no doubt, in this universe, you only get what you put in.

Therefore be at peace with the Internet,
whatever you conceive it to be,
and whatever you use it for,
in the noisy confusion of updates, there is life outside of it.

With all its spam, noise, and broken promises,
it is still a pretty damn good way to waste time.
Be cheerful.
Disconnect every once in a while.

Found 'Em On Facebook

Any self-proclaimed and self-serving social media guru in this day and age will tell you that the key to success in online business is to make your own Facebook fan page.  Never mind that it’s not free (the times you spend updating your page all translate to labor costs), that you’ll spend a lot of time and money making portals (digital does not thrive on Facebook fan pages alone), or that even the biggest businesses with the biggest pages do not necessarily know what they’re doing on Facebook outside of gathering fans, or having more fans than the other brand (there, I said it).

Still, people flock towards the “F.”  Brands now blend the “Find us on Facebook” mantra into the marketing mix, and force the “social media” thingy into the brand DNA.  Which begs the question: if brands want us to “Find” them on Facebook, then there must be smaller brands and businesses out there that try their darndest, or have tried their darndest, to cut through the noise of digital and actually bring business into their places.  They may not have the big marketing budgets of brands or the creative and technical capital of agencies and suppliers, but still, I found ’em on Facebook.

Violet Laundry Shop

Your friendly neighborhood laundry shop is probably the last place that you’ll think of when someone says “Facebook fan page.”  While Violet Laundry Shop was not updated for over a year now, they’re first to be there way before brands started making their own pages with fancy apps and all sorts of things.  In many ways, what Violet Laundry Shop was doing two years ago is what many of us would probably be doing right now.

Violet Laundry Shop was branding their page two years ago, when many other bigger brands still had no idea how they could make their page theirs.  Plus, they announced their Loyalty Card promo way before everyone else had a loyalty incentive for consumers and customers.

I wouldn’t know where they are now, but for a small wash-dry-fold outlet without the multi-million peso marketing budget of bigger companies, their laundry list is almost just right.

Saint Peter Life Plan

Every now and then I have to hear the words “complete social media mix” from clients and colleagues alike.  While we can debate over the difference between “tools” and “strategies” all day, I think that it’s not a matter of how good the hammer is, or what kind of nail you use, or how aligned the hammerhead is to the nail’s head when you strike it.  For me, it’s a matter of having purpose in all that hammering.

Why a funeral chapel would have a social media presence is not something I can answer yet (maybe for the e-Burol service, I do not know), but if there’s any one thing you can find on their Facebook page, websiteand Twitter profile, it’s positive sentiment.  People have nothing but good things to say about St. Peter, the sellers of the life plan do it quite well (albeit rough around the edges), and in their own way, they’re generating buzz (BINGO!) for their brand.  It’s not one for the sake of having one, but purpose: the hope that maybe, just maybe, this funeral chapel can sell some plans online.

So in the case of St. Peter, it’s about making sense of why they’re online: it’s not a matter of being there just because.  While there still can be a lot done for St. Peter, in a whole flock of Facebook-ed brands, they’re doing a few things better than others.

And in the course of a day looking through Facebook pages I found a lot more small businesses trying to get a piece of digital gold: sewing machine repairmen being open about prices, buy-one-take-one lechon manok, free half-liempo for fans, tantalizing pictures of food, e-retailer programs, and appreciative thank-you’s from the owners of the businesses themselves.  Or just being genuinely nice people to get people to like them so that they’d bring more business to their doors.  What they lack perhaps in training or budget or digital sensibilities, they make up in people skills.  And really, shouldn’t that be a big part of what we do?

Now I’m not an expert, a guru, or whatnot: I’m just a guy who has put in a couple of years into a profession that requires me to know and learn from digital.  Most would look through the case studies of big companies to make mammoth, gargantuan, labyrinthine campaigns when simplicity is often the best way to go about things.  That even we can learn from what we would consider failures, small fry, or non-players.  Yet even in that glint of success that they can boast – Violet’s Laundry Shop being the first to brand, and Saint Peter Life Plan to say that they’re better integrated than others – those who claim expertise and guru-hood may learn.  That there’s more to it than making pages and getting fans.


Around a year ago, the Freedom of Information Bill wasn’t passed in Congress, hashtagged with #FOI.  People were outraged by Congress not passing an essential bill.  Now, the hashtag of the season is #reefwatchPH or #savePHseas, where people are outraged by the “rape of the oceans.”  In the span of a year, many issues have been hashtagged, advocated over Twitter, and became the advocacy of the “Philippine blogosphere.”

Looking back, something doesn’t compute with all of this outrage.  There is no reverberating message, there is no undercurrent to the outrage outside of a trending issue being the flavor of our very accelerated months.  While we have mastered the art of instigating, arousing, and organizing, the way social media is used in our time is not doing a good job at mobilizing and sustaining.

We do a good job at making outrage reach a flashpoint, but there isn’t much we’re doing right now to keep the flames of outrage burning.  This, I surmise, is the reason why the critics of “the social media lynch mob” are correct for now in saying that advocacies online do not have a commensurate effect in whatever is happening offline.

There’s a big, gaping disconnect that remains valid if our idea of success is for a trending topic to be covered by traditional media (which happens anyway).  Or if our idea of success is hinged completely on how many times our hashtags are made, how many times our names are mentioned on other blogs, or how many people “like” the official Facebook fan page of Cause Such-and-Such.  That is a disconnect that should be bridged with sustaining the outrage.  Why are we outraged?  How long can we remain outraged?  What do we do about the outrage?  What are the tools we can use to act on the outrage?  When do we say that we, in social media, have resolved this outrage?

That may sound a little too much like marketing, but in a market full of ideas and causes, advocacy without strategy will not stand a chance of being remembered, much less acted upon.  Perhaps they’ll be documented in blogs, at the most.  I’m guilty of all of the above, and looking back I believe that jumping on a trending topic because of its newsworthiness is not enough.

Everything is connected, and somehow it behooves us to look at issues as more than trends, but as a continuing struggle for a better world.  Topics trend not only because they’re newsworthy, but because they somehow echo things that have already happened.  Willie, RH, the coral reefs, divorce laws, and the Spratly Islands should all encourage us to look at the bigger picture where these conversations are taking place: the fragmentation of our nation, which leads to a fragmenting of values.  The debate, therefore, should open itself up to the bigger picture where the trend is taking place.

More importantly, the advocacies we participate in should be sustained.  Time and again, it’s the piece-by-piece, time-after-time thinking that keeps us from ensuring that not only would our causes be remembered, but that these would also be cascaded to the rest of the population who aren’t connected.  The more we keep hopping on bandwagons just because, without thinking of long-term effects or the bigger picture by which a trend takes place, the more we end up with flash-in-the-pan issues that become more of the same in the long run.  It doesn’t make social media any less relevant, but a lack of sustaining efforts do compromise its helpfulness.

If #reefwatchPH is to move along further than the issues that precede it, it’s more than just blogs on June 8, 2011.  The advocates will be those who will keep talking about this issue, educating people about this issue, and will stay with this issue for as long as it takes for him to help solve it.  Otherwise, the fires of outrage that we fan now may just be the flashpoint of one of many matchsticks we’ve lit to the kindling of hashtags over the years.

Notes on the "Death" of Friendster

Techcrunch reports that Friendster, a pioneer of social networking, is going to wipe out photos, blogs, comments, testimonials, comments, and groups on May 31st.  Reading through the comments and some of the thoughts of friends and acquaintances, it’s fairly easy to see some consensus forming: that “Friendster is dead,” and would be part of a running “body count” of social networks that have gone the way of the 404 (or some other more apt analogy).

It’s hard to argue with the obvious that a Darwinian (or to be more accurate, Spencerian) flavor is present in social networks after the seeming dominance of Facebook in the social networking space.  Only the fit social networking sites survive, and it just so happens that Facebook and Twitter are the fittest of them all.  I’d venture to say that nobody uses Friendster anymore.  From the looks of things, what was once a vibrant and exciting community of friends and users has somehow ebbed into relative obscurity in favor of social networks driven by apps and APIs, and where entire digital marketing disciplines cover just one or two mega-platforms.

I won’t claim to be an “expert” on social media or anything, but I’d just like to stick my neck out and say that maybe – just maybe – the idea that “Friendster is dead” is wrong.


Did It Fail?

TJ Dimacali of GMANews.TV wrote an interesting article last Wednesday (that gives you how much free time I have these days, LOL) on whether or not last week’s cartoon-characters-against-child-abuse Facebook meme actually worked.  It’s interesting because it somehow reflects on the state of social media, and puts a good frame of reference in its position in society.

While we can disagree about the robustness of the methodology used in the article (the set of keywords, the tools used, the interpretation of results), the result propounded by Mr. Dimacali is fairly conclusive: the virality of the meme did not translate to action, much less a commensurate increase in interest for child abuse.  Be that as it may, we do not know how many people actually did the meme, or if the meme was indeed executed by users to support the cause against child abuse.  For purposes of this entry, let’s leave it at that.

In a previous column for The Philippine STAR, I wrote that while social media amplifies conversations, it often does so at the expense of other issues that deserve amplification.  Conversations have the tendency to spiral into silence: in a multi-faceted meme like the cartoon characters on Facebook profile pictures, the fun factor is amplified at the expense of the issue.

Did the meme fail?  I don’t think so.


Laws of Online Memetics

Law of Memetic Inertia

If the sum of all forces acting upon a subject is zero, then the trajectory of thought of that subject is constant.

A subject at rest will move towards a bias when force acts upon it.

All forces on the Internet are biased.  There is no objective solution.

Law of Accelerated Opinion

A subject subjected to a force accelerates towards opinions that have the same direction and trajectory as the opinion.

The magnitude of the acceleration of the subject’s opinion is directly proportional to the mass, and inversely proportional to the force applied on it.

Opinion does not need an issue in order to be formed and accelerated.

Law of Non-Commensurate Overreaction

For every action offline or online (or lack thereof), there is an unequal and non-commensurate reaction online.

The mutual actions of two subjects acting upon each other are dependent on supporters, followers, gall, and the amount of time a subject is willing to spend online to defend the non-commensurate overreaction.

Fuckwad Effects

Sometime last year, I wrote about the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory in the context of John Suler’s online disinhibition effect thesis.  Today, there is growing interest in adding the conceptual form of Internet addiction in DSM-V, mostly because of real social problems brought about by translations of real-world behavior online.

The sociologist William Isaac Thomas, in his statement on the definition of the situation, sets it out clearly: if people define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences.  For the longest time, we’ve considered the “online universe” as something disjoint from society: in reality, all our actions online, no matter how anonymous, have a direct effect on our offline lives when it has a consequence.


My WordCamp 2010 Breakaway

WordCamp Philippines 2010 was nothing short of awesome.  And yes, this is a very belated entry.

This year’s WordCamp Philippines found me babbling about WordPress statistics at the Advanced Track for the breakaway sessions – talking more about bananas and the tumbok shape of normal distributions more than anything else relevant – but I’m writing this post for the benefit of those who:

  • Were not able to attend my WordCamp breakaway;
  • Agreed with Bariles’ opinion of me being a rockstar at night (although the rockstar should still be Matt Mullenweg), or;
  • Attended my WordCamp breakaway but just weirded out by my incoherent mumbling, and making suggestive gestures with a bottle of drinking water.

Here goes.