Microsoft's social network

This week, Microsoft radically extended the services offered on their live.com service. Previously i

It’s a key strike in the MS strategy to win back some ground from Google, offering a tight integration with the Windows ecosystem and laying the foundations for the upcoming introduction of Windows 7 next year. Despite the picasa/ flickr alternatives and file sharing servives, the overwhelming sensation is one of being connected - the ‘Live Profiles’ feature in particular representing a clear challenge to the current leaders of the social networking scene. Redmond needs to do something fast. With the botched launch of Vista still smarting and browser-based applications beginning to eat away at their boxed-product market share, moving aggressively towards the socialised web app space is the only real option.

Of course, you’d be right to be suspicious. The instinctive and accepted response to Microsoft attempting to do anything which involves humanity (such as social networking or even comedic advertising) is of course howls of derisive laughter. The idea that the uber-capitalist machine is incapable of delivering anything like the warmth of community that something like Facebook can create is crazy because they’re simply too, y’know, Microsoft.

But, whilst every atom in my body distrusts their them, the numbers once again batter me into submission. The way in which MS can win this is through what is often perceived as one of their most trivial and inane distractions : Instant Messaging. Their Windows Live Messenger client (formally MSN Messenger) boasts some 268 million individual users worldwide, all of whom need simply to log into the new live.com site to slouch over to it and adopt it as their social-network home of choice. Just to log-in in the service is to be effortlessly and instantaneously connected to all your msn pals the world over. They likely already have their trojan installed on your machine, and one of your family is chatting to their friends on it.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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