25 May 2008
Last night I went to a Eurovision party. It’s something people all over Europe do – often dressing up in strange outfits to support the underdogs in the European Broadcasting Union’s annual music competition. But the party I went to wasn’t in one location, it was in dozens of homes and pubs across Europe and even North America. The party I went to was on twitter.
Twitter has proved itself to be useful in all sorts of ways most people wouldn’t initially have imagined. Users have used i to follow eyewitnesses to bombings in Jaipur, the Chinese earthquakes, reaction to the London Mayoral elections and more.
Last night I was getting ready to go out for a bite to eat when I remembered I needed to switch twitter over to phone alerts. When I looked at the screen, I saw a number of the people I follow tweeting about their own Eurovision party preparations, including these from Anna:
"Eurovision Song Contest tonight. Having
party with friends where we dress up as our favourite country + pretend
we think it’s deadly serious"
"my money is on Spain. http://youtube.com/watch?v=… their song is a cross between Borat, Hot Chip and Austen Powers "
"wearing red skirt, yellow shirt with green
top and a white jacket, hair in bunchies and some ridicuous makeup. I’m
ready for Europarty!"
This is, by the way, the difference between Eurovision and the European Football Cup – one is purely for cheesy entertainment, with viewers swapping allegiances based on how bad a singers hair is or how unlikely it is they’ll win, whilst with football… well, that can be deadly serious. And Terry Wogan doesn’t present football.
As things got underway, I heard from one friend that he was "stuck between Latvia, France and Norway" and joked back that this probably makes him Denmark or Poland. People complained about the block voting done by many, if not most, of the countries participating. We laughed about presenters, collectively navel gazed at a few of the singers, made guesses as to the outcome of voting, and threw our support behind unlikely candidates.
As the conversation drew more people in, we started to use methods such as hashtags (#eurovision in every tweet) to help others find the conversation – you can see it here. Some of us also used Summize and Tweetscan.
At one point, one of my North American followers told me he thought the coverage on twitter was brilliant but couldn’t see the programme so I switched qik on and streamed it to him via my mobile (and heard from people in the UK and France that there was no lag at all on the stream), allowing him to watch what we were describing and kicking off a few side conversations amongst my friends about whether streaming from cameraphones would ever be more than a niche activity, practiced by those privileged enough to have a good phone and cheap data.
There were also serious, almost academic, discussions of block voting, particular by the former Communist ruled countries of the East and the Balkans.
It was, I thought by the end, almost just as fun, and almost certainly more interesting because of the global participants, as actually being at a Eurovision Party.
A few years ago, the BBC developed a service called Chat Around Content. The idea was that users who were on the same page could have a chat about a piece of content. Although the small number of users who got to test it were generally enthusiastic, there were problems with moderation costs and few people on the editorial side really understood what Chat Around Content was for and it was eventually mothballed.
The experience I had last night, where I was part of a European wide conversation about Eurovision, clearly demonstrates that people do want this short of shared experience around an editorial proposition or event. As Darren Waters, one of the people I was twittering with around Eurovision last night explains in his post (which, incidentally, I knew he was writing because he tweeted me earlier) on the BBC Technology blog, Dot.life:
"It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer water cooler moments,
in part because television has become less of a cohesively social
PVRS, video on demand, BitTorrent, digital download stores, DVD box
sets have all helped to fracture the common viewing experience.
We tend to watch our TV content out of sync with one another these days.
But last night I experienced a water cooler moment as a programme
was being broadcast. It was social TV at the point of broadcast, and it
was thanks to Twitter.
Eurovision is precisely the kind of mass experience and mass
participation event that made, and arguably still makes, TV so social."
Broadcasters and content providers should take note. What I participated in last night would be almost totally invisible to most viewers. Most people don’t know how to find and track conversations on twitter, other social networking services or blogs. But being part of an audience community is a powerful experience for participants and a valuable brand building tool for broadcasters and other content producers.
We need to make it as easy as possible for ordinary users to find and participate in conversations around our content. The way to do that isn’t to duplicate the tools and services that are already out there, but to create interfaces, windows, that let people see and join into the conversation. Underlying that interface there might be all sorts of complex tools – hashtags, tweetscan, summize and twitterlocal are all useful – but in pulling them all together in a meaningful way, much of the complexity and need for prior knowledge is removed. Achieve that and next year’s Europarty is going to be unforgettable.