James’s Thoughts

Making the Cut

Exploring Orkut’s Unique Platform

10/16/2022

There are certain sites which come to mind when the buzzword “social media” is dropped: Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube (to some extent), are the monolithic backbone of individuals’ forays in the world of virtual community–the first choice, so to speak, when people feel like choosing to connect with friends and, perhaps, even strangers.

There are less known social media platforms, however. Take Orkut, which was created by a man employed by Google, and which was very popular and influential in the virtual scene for a brief window of time in the past decade (Mahoney & Tang, 2017).

Orkut featured many of the amenities of a more popular site like Facebook; however, Mahoney and Tang cite certain drawbacks and limitations inherent to the structure of this social media site which likely led to its retreat into the shadows of the Internet (2017). However! Orkut was very popular in the South American nation of Brazil, and its unique pseudo-retail features allowed Brazilians the opportunity to shop online using Orkut and also refer to product reviews, which privilege, as cited by Mahoney and Tang, generates more consumer trust than standard product review-referrals (2017). That “outdoor advertising,” to quote Mahoney and Tang, is forbidden in the country of Brazil (for some reason I cannot guess at!), led to natural excitement surrounding the online shopping experience mediated by Orkut as a social media site.

(Photo accessed via Amazon.com)

Launching any new social media network is likely tough going. Orkut failed, in the end, to maintain its competitiveness alongside sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But what made Orkut so popular in Brazil and not elsewhere? Could there be a cultural factor at play? Was the country’s limitation on outdoor marketing a substantial motivator for Brazilians to employ Orkut as a social media site in order to conduct business? What the citizens of this country may have perceived as an oppressive, or even outrageous, regulation may have been the groundwork for Orkut’s success in Brazil. Were Brazilians exercising autonomy via Orkut, or striving to perhaps ignite the sparks of sociopolitical change and reform? We have seen in the past thirty years how effective social media platforms can be when it comes to organizing likeminded individuals and their causes.

The role which social media can play in evoking large-scale change may be in its infancy, at present; however, it has been shown and is evident to anyone who enjoys and uses social media that it is definitely here to stay; and, like any medium which connects, if not unites, people from around the world, or even on a smaller scale, it wields the potential to evoke change.

But before we wax philosophical, let’s return to our evaluation of Orkut. Like most social media platforms, it . . .

  • Allowed users to connect with friends.
  • Encouraged networking in the professional sectors.
  • Fostered the economy by allowing for a small market feature.

It even allowed users to rate other users’ sex appeal (Mahoney & Tang, 2017).

Popular in Brazil, it is however evident that Orkut did not innovate enough to make itself stand out or assert itself above its competitors. It is still used; however, after its peak in 2014 (Mahoney & Tang, 2017), it slid down into the realm of obscurity.

This raises, now, the question of social media utility; in short, what amenities set certain social media platforms apart from their fellows? In my opinion, it all comes down to finding a niche, and I am of the opinion that Orkut failed to find that sweet spot, that niche.

However many social media platforms arise in the near future, they ought to work overtime in order to ensure that, unlike Orkut, they can establish and sustain a competitive nice in the world of the Internet.

“One Minute Is All You Need”

Weixin and Social Utility

10/2/2022

Culture isn’t usually something that you correlate with social media, much less the Internet. Sure, memes may be an expression of Internet “subculture,” at best; however, in my opinion, the Internet is still too young to have really cemented itself as a cultural force.

While the Internet may not be able to provide us with cultural material–at least, not yet–what if a culture finds manifestation on the Internet, or through the Internet? Take the Chinese social media application, Weixin, an all-in-on application accessible via smart phone technology which can allow users to do everything from sharing pictures to hailing a taxi to even opening a business (Mahoney and Tang, 2017).

(Photograph accessed through smarttraveller.gov.au)

The Chinese culture is ancient and deeply engrained in the minds of the peoples of this large country. Weixin offers a way for people to stay connected, an important feature given that the Chinese population is so large. In my assessment of the popularity of this particular social media application, I find that it caters to many necessities desired by urban Chinese citizens, such as the need to get a ride in a taxi, for example, or to communicate with friends and close relatives.

When most Americans picture Chinese society, certain images or ideas may come to mind. We may view Asian cultures as more exotic, and even more ancient, than our own. Crane, for The Diplomat online journal, writes, “Like any culture, China’s is deep, ever-changing, and multifaceted and it can be hard to speak concisely or determinately about anything so variable and intangible” (Crane, 2015). If American’s are at a loss to picture Chinese society tangibly, it is because we are outsiders to it. The peoples of China are accustomed and acclimated to their ancient culture; applications such as Weixin allow the Chinese people to connect, share content, and even venture into business by taking advantage of the sense of community which defines this old and august society.

I have to wonder if such a multifaceted application like Weixin would be successful in Western culture, where things seem more to me to be organized (at least, in terms of social media) along lines of utility and purpose: I need a ride, I can an Uber; I am hungry, I use DoorDash; and so on. Perhaps the differences of culture along the lines of how Chinese people and American people use and consume products informs how those same peoples implement and use social media.

  • Weixin allows users to communicate with friends and family members, also allowing for photograph sharing
  • One interesting element of Weixin allows users to establish small-scale business

One element of Western culture which may negatively impact the popularity of such a multifaceted application like Weixin is the compartmentalization of services. As I mentioned above, if an American is hungry, he or she may either use DoorDash or another, similar application; so, having all imaginable services under one umbrella might confuse Westerners, to say nothing of Americans. Here, I dare to say that Chinese culture is, well, “different,” and this is due partly to the culture’s ancient roots, but also to the government of the country, which is a blended communist society. Perhaps Chinese people are used to a restricted array of products, so that something like Weixin, which lumps many things together, is more palatable?

Whatever the reasons behind the popularity of Weixin, Mahoney and Tang (2017) describe its popularity as a monolithic aspect of modern Chinese culture. Will this trend continue? Will future ventures into social media diversity lead to a plethora of platforms used by the modern Chinese people?

Any discussion of media popularity has to take into account the context of the culture within which the media operates and is present. We Westerners picture that life in communist China is somewhat oppressive, and that it lacks some of the “freedoms” enjoyed in the West. We Westerners may scratch our heads, wondering why something so general (Weixin) in its services is so appealing; worse yet, our more conspiracy-minded theorists may aver that Weixin is a state-sponsored “mind-control” scheme.

(As funny as that may sound, in today’s off-beat political climate, it is not implausible.)

So, more power to the Chinese people as they become acclimated to the world of social media!

(Photograph accessed through news.cgtn.com)

Trivializing Breast Cancer

9/13/2022

October will shortly be upon us, and that means “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Along with pumpkin spice lattes, sweaters, and, in my neck of the woods, Southern California, raging wildfires, we will all soon be regaled by campaigns to shed light on this common, and deadly, disease.

  • Above, a common symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

There have been several meme campaigns online to raise awareness for this deadly disease, but in my opinion, and in the opinion of Mahoney and Tang, these campaigns are “not linked to real-life action” (2017), and therefore are unlikely to make any real impact.

  • Breast cancer, apart from the stereotype, claimed the lives of 400 men in 2012 (Mahoney & Tang, 2017).
  • New methods are required if word is to spread, and any real change brought on.

“Kinky” meme campaigns where women post about their bra color and sexualize the idea of breast cancer awareness come off as trivial–we are dealing with a real threat, and the disease and those who suffer from it deserve concern, if not respect (can one really respect a disease?).

Breast cancer ought to be treated as the deadly disease that it is, and instead of creating hype or buzz surrounding silly meme campaigns which don’t do much of anything, really, information such as that published by the New England Journal of Medicine, discussing novel new therapies for breast cancer treatment, ought to be championed; women and men want to know their options–doctors and teams of scientists are hard at work developing new therapies (Pivot, 2022).

Questions, questions, questions! Picture yourself in middle age, at the doctor’s office to hear the results of a panel of tests. The doctor drops the “C” word, and you go white–your heartrate increases, your breathing becomes sharp and short. Naturally, you feel you can trust this doctor’s assistance and help through the process, but you feel lost: all you know “right off the bat,” so to speak, is that breast cancer is something we talk about a bit near Halloween–and for some reason, it gets women to act all kinky and weird on their Facebook pages, to the confusion of their husbands and partners.

So, where does our patient go? Where can our patient find peace of mind? Means for this peace of mind ought to be more available to the cancer patient. Xavier Pivot, MD, of the New England Journal of Medicine writes in a scholarly journal article about a new medication for the treatment of breast cancer (2022). However! The layman (or laywoman) most likely does not know how to decipher such medical jargon as is connected with scientific publications in general. So, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.

Hopefully, in the near future cancer patients, and even those who just want to stay informed of their health risks, should be catered to in a way that is mature, logical, and medical and scientific.

  • We can spread the word through resisting the trivialization of breast cancer and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
  • Listening to survivors’ stories is key.
  • If all else fails, listening and acting based on the stories that we hear from survivors may be our best bet to conquer breast cancer.

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The Genius of Warby Parker

9/1/2022

Need a new pair of glasses? Ditch your appointment with the optometrist and check out Warby Parker (www.warbyparker.com). These creative venture capitalists have managed to achieve what I hold to be one of the principle aims of social media marketing: reaching out to customers in need through novel, creative means. Their unique approach does away with some of the old trappings of buying a quality set of eyewear. Say farewell to the retail experience–Warby Parker allows you to not only browse for pairs of eyewear in the comfort of your own home, but they also allow you trials free of charge, just so you can be sure that their product is a good fit!

I am currently enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University as a student in my university’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, and I am currently enrolled in a course on social media marketing. I was afforded the chance to learn about Warby Parker: how a gang of business students used their resourcefulness to redefine a common experience for a lot of people: going to get their prescription glasses. I found it interesting how effectively Warby Parker uses social media to redefine the “game,” as it were. They encourage users of their products to take photographs of themselves wearing Warby Parker eyewear, and they also are open to comments on their online social media pages (Mahoney and Tang 18-19).

Warby Parker can undoubtedly credit their success to the speed and efficacy of social media; to how people who enjoy a certain product can spread, by word of mouth, their experiences, thus generating hype, buzz, and general interest. Archaic media such as television, radio, and print may have put the Warby Parker name “out there,” so to speak; however, due to the sheer quantity of content paraded about by those mediums, it is doubtful that archaic media could have boosted Warby Parker’s appeal, and a little, fledgling start-up, aimed at improving lives, would be by traditional media buried.

When it comes to new methods of getting one’s name or brand out into the open, Warby Parker implements a transactional model, to be sure. It allows for open exchange of content, and it is also important to note the ability for this information to be disseminated, and by multiple people–in this case, the happy consumers of Warby Parker eyewear. A more “linear” process, as Mahoney and Tang define it (11), would limit the ability for Warby Parker to spread its message and commercial image: common meaning, which Mahoney and Tang stress as vital to the transactional, and more effective, process would be strained (12).

Warby Parker’s name will probably spread in the coming years. Social media, according to what I have been learning, will likely usurp traditional media, as more people around the world have access to internet services–and we all are aware of the power of the internet, and its unique social media services, to evoke change. As more people connect with each other, using hashtags and links on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, little start-ups like Warby Parker and their chums will see their businesses thrive.

About Me

Welcome to my blog! Here, you can access my thoughts and musing as I work to complete my MFA! I am a Southern California native and US Navy veteran.

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