Stephen Harper, Julia Nunes and Social Software

I’m feeling pretty comfortable in the belief that I’m the first person to put these two very differently popular people in the same sentence. Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada. Julia Nunes is a youtube sensation (she also happens to be a pretty good musician/singer/writer/performer/videoeditor). I’ve been struggling recently to deconstruct the Mark Prensky digital native/digital immigrant concept as well as explain what the social part of social software means to me. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my little corner of the internet I say ‘to me’ because I don’t think that there is any ‘one’ definition of any of these things… but rather try to speak about these things from my own experience for whatever that might be worth. It may be worth something to one person, and not to someone else… I expect this to be true. It is, in a sense, how the social part of social software works… Some people may like the way that I do things or think and others wont. That’s good. I like diversity.


Stephen Harper is the conservative leader of Canada. He went to that party from a more right wing party and, generally, can be understood to have conservative values. He also runs a pretty polished campaign, and runs… as the saying goes… a pretty tight ship. Not who you’d expect to be out in the wilds of the social internet, with comments open to all. But he uh… seems to be. Shows what I know. He also happens to have a pretty significant webpresence I’ve noticed today. I don’t think that the ‘numbers’ are the only way of talking about the internet or social software, but they do make things a little easier. And it does seem odd that someone with so many followers is actually following more people. If the prime minister is governing his own twitter account… that would mean that he has searched out 200 people, who he was chosen to follow individually who have decided not to follow him. This seems a bit unlikely.

  • Twitter : pmharper following 2856 followers 2668 has made 106 tweets
  • Flickr: 896 photos no comments that i saw. Well tagged. The four photos I looked at had between 3 and 12 views.
  • youtube: video views between 50 and 20,000. Subscribers: 453. Channel Views: 23,766. Used primarily as direct, formal addresses to the canadian people

Julia Nunes is a 20 year old student from somewhere in the US. One of her videos hit the front page of youtube in late 2007 early 2008 where i first subscribed to her youtube account. She has since

  • twitter : no presence. just found out about twitter because someone assumed her identity on it.
  • flickr : two people named that… both with private flickr accounts
  • youtube: video views between 50,000 and 1,200,000. Subscribers: 71,386 Channel Views: 2,076,754

When I look to compare the ‘social presence’ of these two figures, one with a very polished presence, updated on a very regular basis, the other an occasional poster to youtube and little else some things jump out. Presence, in and of itself, does not make you popular in the social space. There are few people with a higher profile than our prime minister in this country and yet, as of the writing of this post, very very few people have viewed his flickr photos. Julia Nunes, on the other hand, was ‘just another student’ when her video hit the front page of youtube and now averages somewhere in the 100-1200K views for her video posts.

The difference, I would suggest, is the intimacy. It is almost impossible to craft a ‘message’ in social software in the traditional sense. There are certainly people who create excellent viral videos (the current PETA vegetable ad comes to mind) but the medium, by its very nature, is transparent over repeated use. If you post 900 photos… the reason and tone of those photos start to become obvious. If you are going to tweet, your followers will start to get a sense of who you are. Julia’s (and I say julia, because I feel like I know something about her) posts give you a sense of who she is as a person… there is a directness and an honesty that is particularly well suited to the medium. I’m not trying to suggest that Mr. Harper is being dishonest… but rather the social net often doesn’t respond well to polish of this kind.

And, as Julia posted recently, she doesn’t know anything about twitter. Yes. A twenty year old youtube star can be mistified and turned off by a kind of social software. It is not, contrary to the way it is portrayed in the media (I have whined about this week after week on Edtechweekly) a monolith, nor is the generation that just happened to have grown up while it was developing. Assuming a uniform knowledge (and desire for) social software is like assuming that everyone growing up in the sixties loved Bob Dylan. Or, equally, that people (like say Pete Seger) from a generation before, were not able to understand what Dylan had to say.

There is a sense, however, a ‘social sense’ in which you could say that Julia has a more intuitive sense of how to use social software. That growing up in her generation has allowed for a better grasp of the medium than someone of, say, Stephen Harper’s generation. This is certainly the argument that I’ve heard from many, many people. But here it is… surf around youtube and see all of the videos (some of them mine 🙂 ) from people who have 10 views, 30 views 50 views on their videos. They by far outweigh the people who have ‘made it’. Julia Nunes happens to be a talented artist who’s direct, funny emotional style is particularly well suited to the immediacy of being played 18 inches from your nose. The people who are managing our PMs webpresence are creating media designed for an entirely different interface and experience. And could be, for all I know, managed by people no older than Julia.

Oh… and buy Julia’s CD. It’s good. As for the videos… this one is won her a ukelele.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

3 thoughts on “Stephen Harper, Julia Nunes and Social Software”

  1. the intimacy thing is interesting. i bet people using social software expect, maybe without being aware of it, that they’ll be getting something “deeper” than the polished public surface of a known figure…so Harper’s coiffed and managed and closed kinda schtick would definitely be a deterrent. at least to a demographic not inclined to be his trusting fans. and i don’t know how popular he is with the slice of the population keen on social software…but i suspect that’s too simplistic a division.

    what i wonder is whether “cool” factor matters too…that you can be detached or managed if what you’re projecting has cultural capital to your audience. Harper’s clearly done a good job getting out there on flickr and twitter…so is it that the people who voted for him aren’t out there themselves, that they just don’t care enough about him to watch his stuff, or that they don’t think anything interesting will reveal itself in that stuff?

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