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The New Digital Applause – Hand Clapping Be Gone

Applauding at an event isn’t exactly fun, sexy or particularly pleasant. Even when you’re applauding out of genuine appreciation for the performance of the person on stage, clapping your hands together repeatedly is draining, unpleasant and you never know when exactly to stop (stop applauding to soon and you look like an ingrate, applaud too long and you look like an over-eager douche).  Applauding isn’t sexy or particularly pleasant and, save for giving the performers on stage immediate praise that they and their ego can feed on, applause isn’t scalable (can you take that exciting moment you just experienced and share it with your network?).

But over the past several years, with the advent of technology and social networks, that has all begin to change (and let me just say “Amen!”).

Wikipedia offers the following dandy definition of audience applause:

Applause (Latin applaudere, to strike upon, clap) is primarily the expression of approval by the act of clapping, or striking the palms of the hands together, in order to create noise. Audiences are usually expected to applaud after a performance, such as a musical concert, speech, or play. In most western countries, audience members clap their hands at random to produce a constant noise; however, it tends to synchronize naturally to a weak degree. As a form of mass nonverbal communication, it is a simple indicator of the average relative opinion of the entire group; the louder and longer the noise, the stronger the sign of approval.  The custom of applauding may be as old and as widespread as humanity, and the variety of its forms is limited only by the capacity for devising means of making a noise (e.g., stomping of feet or rapping of fists or hands on a table).

I came across a photo (below) taken at The New York Asian Film Festival a few days ago wherein the audience gave a standing ovation for actor Donnie Yen. The difference between this standing ovation and the classic standing ovation is notable in that, instead of clapping, audience members stood and captured media (photos and video) of the moment with their mobile phones. This isn’t a new phenomenon (concert-goes have been doing this for years). But seeing it done in a more structured, formal event setting during a standing ovation is striking and telling. Wikipedia notes that applause “is a simple indicator of the average relative opinion of the entire group; the louder and longer the noise, the stronger the sign of approval“. Sounds like social media to me. Indeed, capturing media of the moment instead of clapping is a way of

I don’t expect hand-clapping as audience applause to disappear anytime soon but I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t miss it if it did.  When it comes to showing your appreciation for any performance I give on stage, you can keep the hand clapping. Capturing media with your cell phone is the best form of flattery (and it’s scalable).

Wireless Social Bicycling Hits NY

While writing this post I have come to realize two things: (1) if it isn’t wireless, social or mobile, it doesn’t exist and (2) I have difficulty spealing the word “bicycling” (don’t know why – just one of those things).

Ryan Rzepecki (a for NYC Department of Transportation employee) understands my first realization very well (the second, not so much).  Rzepecki is the founder of SoBi (as in social bicycling) (a wireless bike-sharing system).  SoBi allows customers to rent bikes by mobile phone or a kiosk which uses a wireless system that tracks, finds and unlocks bicycles using a smartphone app(completeling eliminating the eyesore, space-consuming bike racks usually associated with bike-sharing).  Think of it as ZIP-car for bicycles.

According to, The City of New York has awarded Social Bicycle a contract to make New York a more bicycle-friendly place by allowing the startup to launch a test pilot with 20 bike by the end of the year (presumably before Winter).

Anyone who lives in an urban environment has, by now, asked themselves, “What about the thieves?”  Bicycle theft is a way of life for certain criminals in the big city (with top-of-the-line bikes fetching hundreds of dollars on the “market”).  Rzepecki thinks he’s solved the problem of securing standalone bikes on city streets: 

“Any lock can be defeated with the right tools, but you want to make it as difficult as possible.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and with the right tools, there’s a way,” he said. “But with GPS tracking and the social system around it, we can limit [theft].”

Rzepecki has already been tapped by other cities and universities across the country to introduce SoBi to their citizens and students.  Being the first to create a model that seems solid (obvious problems aside) and gaining traction on potential competitors by landing deals with major cities across the country, it looks like Rzepecki could be the next startup superstar on the block.  What say you?

The Social Bicycle System from Ryan Rzepecki on Vimeo.

Mobile Minutes for Condoms: a Tanzanian Non-Profit Strikes Social Media Gold

Tanzanian merchants don’t like condoms.  They don’t have a problem with using them, they just don’t want to sell them.  In a country where AIDS is rampant, this is nothing short of a disaster.

The problem is both complicated and simple at the same time. Merchants don’t want to sell condoms because they don’t make any money from the sale (they can hardly afford to stock products they don’t make money from). sums up the cause-and-effect at the heart of this delima:

“85 million condoms at 100,000 retail outlets were sold in 2009, with the vast majority distributed by PSI. Because the PSI-distributed condoms are subsidized, they are considered lower-value by the shopkeepers than other products as they have low profit margins. Retailers were also reliant on the PSI agents to push and deliver the product and were not incentivised to proactively requests re-supplies when their condom stocks ran low. As a result, promotion and requisition (and sales) of these Salama condoms is not a priority for shopkeepers.”

What does any of this have to do with mobile minutes and social media?

Population Services International (PSI) (a non-profit organization that educates the Tanzanian population on safe sex and helps them to impliment the life-saving tactics (like using condoms)) created a campaign to address the problem of shopkeepers refusing to stock condoms by using, of all things, mobile and social media.  The results were shocking.

As it turns out, shopkeepers have a high rate of cell phone usage in both rural and urban areas of Tanzania (roughly 75% of shopkeepers have mobile phones). Organizers at PSI used this to their advantage by offering shopkeepers free-mobile minutes incentives in exchange for stocking their shops with condoms (a scratchcard system). 

PSI partnered with 3 major mobile carriers. To say this program is a success is an understatement.  So far, over 900 shopkeepers have joined the program throughout the country.

We need to hear more about these types of targeted, succesful campaigns (particularly coming from the non-profit sector) in order to understand exactly how we can use social media to empower us to find solutions to some of our most long-standing social problems. Yes, it’s also important to hear the media trumpet the social media successes of big corporations but we should also recognize that it’s the scrappy, small organization (the not-for-profits and startups of the world) that will often times find the more creative and organic way of implementing social media precicely because they don’t have big budgets (and will, thus, have to be more creative). 

Note to the media (especially tech media sites like Let’s not forget to let the voices of non-profits, struggling third world countries, small businesses and scrappy startups be heard along with the big guns (that is, if we are to figure out the true benefit of these new social tools and how to maximize using them).  It’s not as sexy as Frito Lays and Starbucks gathering a million “Likes” on Facebook, but their social media experiences are relevant too.

To learn more about the mobile/condom campaign strategy in detail, read the origina post here.