Even with social media, ideas still travel slowly

This is a continuation of the post “In internet age, ideas still travel slowly” in which I discussed how hard it is for cities to adopt best design practices because ideas are still slow to travel. It doesn’t matter how connected we’ve become, it seems like every city must “discover” an idea for themselves to be able to implement it, delaying the process immensely.

Can social media play a role in speeding up the process? You’d think so, based on the amount of hype that concept has had over the past couple of years.

There are definite advantages. Theoretically, people can see photos their friends took in NYC, London, Tokyo or Mexico City of innovative road treatments or transit methods that don’t exist back home. They can then jump over to the facebook page of a council-member, city department or mayor-outreach page and post the picture with a comment asking for the same to be done at home. That should get the ball rolling and have the city be more responsive to the idea when it’s raised at a community meeting.

But it doesn’t quite work that way.

For one, the average person does not see a sharrow, sidewalk-extension or rear-door-boarding on a bus and think “we need this!”. In fact, the average person sees it but DOESN’T see it. It simply doesn’t register. It’s boring. It’s certainly not something you share with friends and family when you get home, or pester your city about it.

“I just came back from DC. Had such a great time. Such a fun city. So much to do and see. Can you believe that bike lane placed right down the center of Penn Ave?”

….yeah, no.

Even if it is something people would want to share, something big and flashy….the sharing doesn’t get very far.

But what if people did post on their Facebook page about green-bike lanes or performance parking. Would the idea spread?

Let’s think past boring street stuff for a second and look at one thing people love to share: music.

Music is fantastically easy to share. People love talking about and listening to it. The entire experience can be consumed in under five minutes. Sharing it simply involves posting a youtube link on a wall with “you’ve got to hear this!”. We’ve all done it, told someone they MUST listen to this new awesome song or band.

You’d think that with the ease of sharing, and the popularity of talking about music, new songs would spread around the globe in a matter of days, unlike the old days when the record companies were in complete control of which songs people were made aware of.

It should be fast and easy, but just like with street-stuff, it still spreads slowly.

If you’re reading this blog, in all likelihood you’ve heard Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye. It’s currently number 1 on the Billboard 100, and is being played on Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop and other kinds of radio stations.

Here’s the thing. It’s May 15, 2012 and the song was released on….July 6, 2011. It hit number 1 in Australia during the fall of 2011 (August 15), and at that point you’d expect social-media to do its magic. It takes time for a song to build up popularity (a month in Australia), but once it hits it big, doesn’t it spread like fire? Or at least, shouldn’t it, with the aid of the internet?

But it didn’t become a hit in England until February of this year, and took until April to top the charts in the US.

In the age where things are supposed to travel around the globe quickly, that’s a super long period. If it takes such a long time for music to travel, then there’s little hope that the spread of information on the best practices in infrastructure and transit to be sped up.

Other recent examples.

Midnight City by M83
Released 19 July 2011 online
August 16, 2011 in France, radio
Currently rising up the Billboard 100 in the US, possible peak in June or July?

This one is especially interesting because of the “one hit wonder” nature of the song. You’d think it would be a fast burner, and yet….

Ai Se Eu Te Pego by Michel Telo
Released July 2011 in Brazil (original version is from 2008)
Becomes a hit in Germany in December/January, breaking multiple records.
Enter US latin charts in March 2012
Hits number 1 in US latin charts in April 2012 (still there)
Enters US Billboard 100 in April 2012
Currently peaking on chart at ~90 in May 2012

333,672,885 views on youtube making it the 10th most watched video in this history of the website, and yet you reader have probably never heard it.

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