Thursday, October 28, 2010

Social Bookmarking for Research

Last year, I read an article about social bookmarking in PRSA's Tactics. At the time, I was unfamiliar with sites such as Delicious, which allow users to store web pages and electronic files of interest. Once you register for a free Delicious account, you're given the option of downloading a toolbar, which thus allows you to bookmark a web page with a single button click.

As you can probably tell by my last sentence, I've since gone ahead and started using Delicious, and it's been a great benefit. You can not only bookmark sites with one click, but you can also organize them using a Tags field. Delicious will save your tag entries, so once you've entered a tag once--such as blogging, or social media, or November elections--bookmarking future sites with the same tags becomes much easier. Just type the first few letters of your tag in the relevant field and Delicious will automatically "guess" using your personal history of tags and populate the field with the full name.

On your personal Delicious page, your column of tags appears on the right side of the screen, allowing you to review all categories under which you've saved pages (as well as the number of pages linked to each tag).

This is, first of all, an easier and more user-friendly way of storing websites than Internet Explorer's Favorites service. Fewer button clicks are involved, the storage system is much more organized, and the layout of stored websites and tags is much more readable. Finally, the social aspect of bookmarking means research with colleagues within an organization or an industry can benefit from multiple users; you can share your tags and stored sites with other Delicious users.

Most mornings, when I go to work, the first thing I do is open Google Reader to scan marketing and PR blogs for posts of interest in various categories. I don't read most of them right then, unless they are particularly relevant to what I am doing that day, that week or maybe that month. But some may be relevant to projects I know are coming but which I haven't thought about yet. Opening posts with such content and clicking Delicious' tag button at the top of the screen allows me to do an instant save under clearly defined tags--"website design", "market research", etc.--so I can save the posts as informational resources when planning those projects.

Working as marketing director at Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman, CPAs in Bethesda, MD, I am happy to share my links with other marketing team colleagues at the firm, or with non-competing marketing colleagues in industry groups such as the Association of Accounting Marketing or CPAmerica International.

I did issue one public request to share bookmarks to colleagues in an industry group, and got no takers. I don't believe sites such as Delicious have the same notoriety as social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. But I believe social bookmarking presents an excellent opportunity to not only store resources for research projects but also to share your results with others who can benefit (and who can provide you with similar resources as well.)

By the way, I am not affiliated nor have I ever been affiliated with anyone with a stake in the success of Delicious.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Copyright Infringement and The Social Network

Maybe it's all the studying I've been doing for the APR exam that's got me thinking about copyrights and The Social Network, which I saw the other day at the Avalon on Connecticut Avenue. Very good movie, though my wife did compare it somewhat disparagingly to The Graduate for its lack of an iconic message for our times. Harsh.

The crux of the film is the issue of whether Mark Zuckerberg "stole" the idea of Facebook from some Harvard crew champions--buff, muscled Aryan types who actually exhibited more personality in the film than you'd expect from your typical baddies. (They decided pummeling the scrawny computer programmer was inappropriate, as other baddies in other films might do, since they were "Men of Harvard". Very interesting).

Whether it happened this way in real life or if it was merely dramatized, these two rich guys/students (blond twins, naturally) first connected with Zuckerberg after learning about his reputation as a first-rate programmer. They asked him to help develop an exclusive social networking site for them and their 'elite' Harvard friends. Zuckerberg said he'd help, then apparently led them on for several weeks telling them he was working on code for the site, or was too busy to work on the site, or this thing or that thing with them apparently growing more and more perplexed with his excuses while he, inspired by the idea of an "exclusive" social networking site, pursued his own vision for what that might look like. Soon Harvard students were introduced to Facebook and the crew champions hit the roof.

Is that copyright infringement? Judging by the facts presented in the movie, the answer is an unequivocal no. Copyright law states that an idea is protected from public use as soon as a creative expression of the idea exists; when the Harvard crew guys met up with Zuckerberg, they had an idea for an exclusive social networking site but it did not exist in any manifest form. There may be other areas of legality surrounding intellectual property that I'm not as familiar with but in terms of whether these Harvard guys could reasonably claim a copyright on an elite social networking site, it only existed in conversation until Zuckerberg came along.

Additionally, if they DID want to complain about his theft, they themselves might have been asked to answer to the fact that they were 'borrowing' the idea of a social networking site in the first place. But as Zuckerberg says during the film, look, you have an idea for a chair, and chairs have existed for a long time. But you still have the legal right to make and sell your own chair.

The Social Network does suggest that Zuckerberg did make a kind of gentleman's agreement with the Harvard crew guys in agreeing to help them in the first place and then was less than candid with them as he pursued his own vision for an exclusive social network (Facebook, based on 'friends'). There are ethical issues there, no doubt. But if the question comes down to legal issues, then it wouldn't seem he broke any laws.

Of course, the film does conclude with the news that he settled a lawsuit with the Harvard crew guys for $65 million, so there might have been other issues involved in the real-life play-by-play that didn't make it to celluloid. But that goes beyond the scope the film The Social Network and this post. The movie was very much worth seeing and I recommend it to anyone who'd care to see how a social network phenomenon came to life.