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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Facebook Fear: Why Our Social Circles Will Continue to Stress Us Out

Off to BBC Breakfast this morning to comment on some research out of Edinburgh University that says the overlap of our social circles on Facebook causes us anxiety. In the simplest terms, we don’t like it when our mum/boss sees us knocking back tequilas at 3am on a school night. But there’s also a serious point here about how our social lives are exposed to potential employers — and cost us roles as a result. 50% of employers in the study confess to having rejected a candidate based on their online profile.

In the pre-social network days, there was a very simple barrier between our social circles: geography. It was unlikely you would bump into your mum at the bar at 3am. Even if there were photos of the event, they were likely in a cardboard folder under someone’s bed, not available to view online. Sometimes this geographic barrier was breached, providing plenty of juicy material for sitcoms, but even then the news could only spread by phone, post or, believe it or not, talking face to face. You might be the talk of the village square but it would probably be restricted to the village.

These days any transgression — or just a simple good night out — can be shared via the web in real time, and unless you’re careful about controlling who sees it (not always front of mind when having fun) it can reach all manner of people.

Google Plus launched with an inbuilt solution to this problem: Circles. You define where in your social network someone sits, and then you can choose which ‘Circles’ see each update. Facebook has since followed suit with a list of different ‘networks’ based on the things you have in common with friends — employer, school, family etc.

The problem with these answers is that they are a little clunky. As I say, if you’ve had a couple of shandies, selecting the right networks for every update when posting pics of your antics is probably not top of your mind. Let alone that of the friends posting pics of you.

The situation is unlikely to improve soon. We are still evolving a proper social network etiquette, and ourselves learning how to use the networks to maximum potential without causing ourselves a disadvantage now or in later life. Laws are growing around this shifting core of digital grammar, but they will always be defined by the societal norms rather than the other way around. All the while the data we share online is gathering power and finding more and more uses. How long before your insurer can legitimately look at your online profile to determine what sort of risk you present?

Ultimately though, we will need to find a solution, and one academic at Lancaster University is already proposing just that. A means for social networks to learn about our friends and contacts and establish on our behalf who should see what. For example, if you post a photo at 3am on a school night from a district packed with nightclubs and Facebook knows that three of your non-work friends are also in the same location, it might assume the picture shouldn’t be shared with your mum or your boss. It’s a simple example but you get the idea.

We’ll still need a level of manual control, but if social networks can really start to understand us, maybe we can start to be completely ourselves online, posting without fear.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

A New Look for Book of the Future

Over the last few days I’ve been rolling out the new look and feel for Book of the Future across various places online, culminating with v1.0 of a new site theme going live this morning. It’s very much a work in progress so please tell me if you see any errors. I haven’t tested it in anything but Firefox for a start so there’s likely to be some issues…

That said, the site is fairly now based on the Twitter Bootstrap, a beautifully tweakable framework for rapid web development. Think of it as the difference between starting from a blank sheet of paper and painting by numbers. There’s a little more to it than that, but it still enabled us to get a rough theme together in a matter of minutes. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

Huge thanks have to go to Stewart Aitken ( whose beautiful designs I have bastardised to make this site. I hope he will continue to help me make it prettier as time goes by.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Will U Wii U? Why it’s not just about the games for Nintendo this time around

The Nintendo Wii U, the first major games console to be launched in 6 years, arrives in British stores on the 30th November. It will cost £249 for a basic model, £299 for the ‘Pro’ bundle with the bells and whistles. It’s a hugely important release for Nintendo, the former playing cards company that has been at the forefront of innovation in gaming since the first arcade games and 8-bit consoles. Nintendo made a loss in 2012 and while the success or failure or the Wii U may not determine the long term existence of the company, it will certainly define what shape that existence takes.


Nintendo is launching the Wii U into a market very different to the one into which it launched the Wii, its previous primary platform. For start, in 2006 there was no iPhone, iPad or Android devices. Today most of us are connected to one or other ecosystem, consuming much of our content and games filtered through a single store — be it iTunes, Google Play, Amazon or Windows (getting there).

Back in 2006 the console was a gaming device, pure and simple, and the games it could boast would determine its success. That game selection was defined by both commercial and more intrinsic factors, though each was intertwined with the other. Developers wanted to know if they could deliver the experience they desired without backbreaking effort, and (chicken and egg) if they did so would there be an audience to consume their wares. Tick those boxes and the console would likely be a success.

Today though the console is much more than a gaming device. It is increasingly the box that gives dumb TVs their smarts. Connected to the Internet it provides a plethora of content channels — audio and visual — alongside the games. With services like Netflix and Lovefilm, plus the terrestrial catch-up services, consoles have become a serious challenger to satellite and cable packages. I amongst others have already sacrificed the Sky subscription for an Xbox Gold membership plus Netflix.

It is on this battleground that the success or failure of the Wii U will be defined. Not whether it can deliver a great gaming experience — I have little doubt of that given the creator’s track record — but whether it can become the primary platform for all of our living room entertainment. It needs to embed itself in our lives so that we don’t just turn it on for occasional gaming but instead use it as a daily portal for all things digital. And consume a fair number of games along the way.

The alternatives are out there already: Microsoft and Sony have already announced various types of multi-screen integration for current and future consoles. But personally I’d be really happy to see Nintendo carve out a sustainable slice of the market. If nothing else, a new Nintendo innovation every few years will keep the other players on their toes.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Tablets On Top for Christmas – CES Analysis

I spent this afternoon at the CES Unveiled conference, where the global consumer electronics industry brings its analysis and some shiny toys for us techies to chew over and play with. You may not be surprised by the results.

The hottest trend in tech this year is the Tablet. It’s so hot in fact that, roughly twice as many US consumers want a Tablet for Christmas as want world peace (take that with the pinch of salt you take with all commercially-sponsored research).

In sheer numbers terms the smartphone wins out but the Tablet is more of a present-style item. Take them both out of the US market though and rather than a 6% growth, the US consumer electronics market has shrunk 5%. Together, Smartphones and Tablets account for 35% of the US consumer tech market.

Here’s a few more numbers from the Consumer Electronics Association’s research:

Top growth trends in consumer tech this Christmas

  • Tablets 112%
  • Soundbars 54%
  • Digital SLR Cameras 13%
  • Headphones 9.8%

Biggest losers

  • Digital video cameras -51%
  • Games consoles -10.4%
  • MP3 players -10%
  • Digital cameras coveral -7.6%
Tom Cheesewright