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The TIME 100: Has Serena's online following hit its peak?

After her surprising third-round exit from Wimbledon 2014, the oldest top-seeded player in WTA history is facing an intensifying debate over the state of her career.

Serena Williams is no stranger to these debates, having been at the forefront of women’s tennis for over a decade. Whatever you think of her recent performance lull, it’s hard to argue with her power to get people talking. So how does she do it and will it help her career after tennis?


Serena’s dominance on the court has helped her establish a fearsome reputation, and her off-court activities have strengthened her image. All this comes together in her online presence, which is tied together in her socially-focused website.

The website shows visitors the moments between the matches via blogs, photos and videos. These moments dominate the site, and it’s easy to overlook Serena’s world-class status in favour of her big personality (and a pretty cute dog).

A dedicated microsite, Serena Fridays, is where most of the action happens. The site has a simple layout organised by hashtags, each displaying a video and encouraging interaction on Twitter. Her video series #inmyshoes shows us mortals what the world looks like through the eyes of a tennis superstar, and a prominent 'Ask Me' button grants us a virtual audience with her.

But what’s the point of all this? So far this year Serena has made $1.9m in prize money alone, making even her 4.2m Twitter followers seem insignificant.

This is where the debate about physical performance rears its ugly head again. If Serena’s playing career is finally on its downward slope, then this online following could be a valuable way of keeping up her profile. The importance of non-tennis activities like charity work with the Serena Williams Foundation and fashion design with Nike is expressed in her website bio, which ends, “Serena continues to also pursue her other interests and has set herself up for a career after tennis”.

What her “career after tennis” looks like is yet to be seen, but efforts to establish Serena as a personality as well as a player won’t hurt her prospects. And while her 4m-strong Twitter following may not make her serve stronger, it’s a valuable asset for a public figure.


With one of the largest online followings in tennis, Serena has cemented an enduring presence in a competitive field. This ability to stick around is an important skill to have in a profession with limited longevity.

Neither Serena’s career nor the social media she’s taken to so easily are mature enough to signal where they’re heading, or whether Serena can maintain a following off the tennis court. But one thing is for sure – if her online fanbase proves just as fleeting as her physical peak, she’s still an all-time tennis great who got us all talking.

Images via New York Times and Serena Williams.



Time 100 - Travis Kalanick helps us get around

If you live in London, you’ve probably heard of Uber. It’s an app that lets city dwellers hail a private car with the tap of a smartphone – a car that Uber describes as faster, cheaper and just all-round better than a taxi. The iOS and Android app allows you to track the car in real time and even pay the fare - another example of mobile technology and app development transforming our everyday lives.

The man behind the company is CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick, the American entrepreneur who created Uber in 2009. The app was officially launched in San Francisco – from there the company grew from city to city and now operates in 38 countries. Financial support from Google has made Uber one of the fastest growing companies in the world, but not everyone is happy to see its rise in popularity.

Uber is potentially cheaper than a taxi because it relies on “surge pricing” (when demand is high, prices go up and vice versa). However, by doing this they are undercutting taxis.  Earlier this month, London black cab drivers took to the streets to protest against Uber, bringing central London to a standstill. The basis of their argument is that the app acts like an unlicensed taximeter, which is against Transport for London rules.

On the day of the strike Uber saw its largest day of downloads since it started in London two years ago, increasing by 850%. The app has a social feature giving every user a code to sign up new customers, which also rewards both users with £10 free credit. The company relies almost exclusively on word of mouth, and according to Kalanick the company has spent virtually nothing on marketing. He has said that for every seven Uber rides, word of mouth generates one new user. This viral marketing model has helped Kalanick get where he is today.

Although black cabs have been an iconic symbol for London for many decades, this strike proves that they cannot stand in the way of innovation. As digital technology presents new opportunities, old markets will be disrupted. Uber is an example of the positive disruption that new technology can bring, in this case offering customers new choices on how to travel.

Companies that embrace these advances in technology will be creating new jobs, advancing their industries, making companies run efficiently - and most importantly, making our day-to-day lives easier.



The TIME 100: Malala's digital mission

As an outspoken campaigner for female education across the world and impassioned speaker at the United Nations, Malala Yousafzai is one of the most remarkable people ever to have survived a gunshot to the head.

Malala was shot for speaking out against the Taliban regime that prevented her and thousands of other young girls from going to school. Since her amazing recovery, Malala’s voice has only grown louder, and the organisation set up in her name continues to help girls get access to education.


The Malala Fund works to provide opportunities for girls in the developing world, with a special focus on Malala’s home country of Pakistan. The organisation is able to maintain this focus thanks to global awareness and support, gained largely through sharing Malala’s story online.

A quick glance at not only explains the work of the organisation, but also introduces Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels to encourage people to explore what the fund does and how they can get involved.

Malala has many more public appearances, TV interviews and speeches under her belt than the average 16 year old, and the Malala Fund YouTube channel makes excellent use of these and other videos to draw attention to the issues she supports.

Her father Ziauddin’s TED talk is particularly moving, and he ends by saying, “people ask me, what is special in my mentorship which has made Malala so bold and so courageous and so vocal and so poised? I tell them, don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings”.

Twitter has also been an important outlet for the Fund, allowing the organisation to promote its own work and add its voice to other debates around oppression. The Fund has used hashtags to their full effect, helping to create meaningful discussions under snappy titles that promote specific causes.

Over a single week this June, @MalalaFund encouraged its 61,000 followers to support the search for kidnapped girls in Nigeria under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, end discrimination as part of #YesAllWomen and petition world leaders to back the Global Partnership for Education under #10DaysToAct.

Malala’s digital presence is clearly more than just a vehicle for her own agenda – it’s a way of reaching out to people and strengthening the movement towards equality between men and women across the globe.


After extreme physical and emotional trauma, Malala has come back fighting. She has defied her oppressors and brought her struggle to the attention of millions, including world leaders and other decision makers who have had no choice but to stop and listen.

By refusing to let the Taliban silence her, Malala has shown us the power of the internet, the importance of speaking out, and most of all the need for many more activists like her.

Images from Coolage and Instagram.



Time 100 – The global reach of Pope Francis

The dramatic contrast between the images below illustrates just how much technology has improved in the last eight years.

The first picture is from Pope Benedict XVI’s election in 2005 and the second is from the election of Pope Francis last year.  The images show how technology has transformed our lives and allowed us to capture big moments with phones and tablets. These images of Pope Francis were shared with the world via social networks, showing the Catholic church that it needed to move with the times whether it liked it or not.

The church hasn’t traditionally used the Internet to communicate, but it has now embraced social media in order to reach a wider global audience. Pope Francis stated that the Internet is “a gift from God” and believes that we can use social media to reach out to our neighbours.  Through his own Twitter account, Pope Francis can speak to over 4 million followers and also have his voice heard by a wider audience. Twitter has made it easier for the Pope to engage with younger generations and people of different religions, and has helped make the church more modern and accessible.

According to a study released last November by The Global Language Monitor (GLM), Pope Francis was the most talked about person online in 2013. Images and videos of Pope Francis embracing a severely disfigured man have been shared by thousands on social networks, an example that shows how stories spread in the modern world.

The Pope has shown that Twitter isn’t just for updates on friends and celebrities – it can also give people an active voice in the world’s media. Pope Francis has connected with individuals from different generations and religions whilst maintaining his appearance in the public eye. And if one of the oldest establishments in the world can embrace social media, there’s certainly hope for the rest of us.



Time 100 – Beyoncé defies the music industry

Not content with being one of the most successful female artists of all time, Beyoncé is now trying to push the boundaries of how she connects with her fans. Her most recent album was released without warning alongside her ‘What is Pretty’ campaign, and still sold over one million copies on iTunes within five days. Going digital has clearly worked for Beyoncé.

Beyoncé managed to keep the album a secret between starting recording in 2012 and the surprise launch in December 2013. She released it to her 12 million Instagram followers over the social network with just the word ‘surprise’. Beyoncé said, "I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it, I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans".

Within the album there is a track entitled Pretty Hurts that promotes her ‘What is Pretty’ campaign. To go with this is a microsite that urges fans to upload a photo or video to Instagram with the hashtag #whatispretty, capturing what the word ‘pretty’ means to them.

Beyoncé has used her ‘What is Pretty’ microsite to great effect. Separate from her main website, encourages users to think about the question and gives them the opportunity to express themselves through their shared photos. By using a dedicated microsite, Beyoncé removes distractions from her main site and focuses attention on the issue of prettiness. Digital channels such as her websites and social media pages have given Beyoncé the opportunity to get closer to her fans - she feels that she can “speak directly” to them, understand what they want from her and occasionally surprise them. This is leaving Beyoncé’s fans, and a lot of other people wondering – what will she do next?



The TIME 100: Snapchat reverse the rules of sharing

You may not know the names of these two California frat brothers, but you know the name of their company.

Snapchat is the photo-sharing app that has stormed its way onto teenagers’ phones everywhere, and an estimated 700 million snaps are now sent every day. How did Spiegel and Murphy make this happen?


At the heart of Snapchat is a reversal of the photo-sharing model we’ve become used to over the last decade. Delete is the new default – unless you’re quick with your fingers and screenshot your snaps, they disappear forever.

While Bobby Murphy is a Stanford maths and computer science graduate, the more public face of the company is a Stanford nearly-graduate who dropped out with three classes to go.

Evan Spiegel didn’t need those extra classes. Snapchat is enjoying huge increases in revenue, users and even employees – a sign that the company is evolving from a startup pretender into a major player. It even attracted a $3billion acquisition offer from Facebook last year, which Spiegel and Murphy rejected.

This was either remarkably confident or catastrophically stupid depending on who you listen to. For a company that still only employs around 50 people, the Facebook deal must have been tantalizing, and turning away from it was a bold move.

The small size of Snapchat, as well as successful Facebook acquisitions Whatsapp and Instagram, shows how lucrative a simple idea can be. With just a handful of staff these companies have built huge user bases and made a fortune in the process.

Snapchat is still on the up – for now. The company has been challenged over its security policy and weathered a strong rivalry with Facebook, but now that rivalry looks set to reignite. With recent reports suggesting that a photo messaging app from Facebook is on its way, could Snapchat be facing its biggest hurdle yet?

New features have helped Snapchat keep users interested and persuade brands to use the app to reach customers. The new chat capability combines text and video messaging to form a kind of Whatsapp/FaceTime mash up, and Snapchat stories allow users to broadcast messages to all their followers.

Through all these developments, Snapchat has managed to maintain its identity by sticking to its original idea – everything deletes unless it’s important enough to keep.


This concept kicks against the traditional method of content consumption, which overwhelms audiences with stuff and leaves them to get rid of whatever they don’t want. Snapchat brings you snippets of information and cleans up after itself.

When you consider the major shift in thinking this represents, it’s less of a surprise that Snapchatters send 700 million messages everyday – and counting.

Images courtesy of Forbes and Mashable.



The TIME 100: could Robert Redford bmore digital?

As founder of the Sundance Institute, legendary actor and producer Robert Redford has championed countless independent filmmakers for over 30 years.

Sundance Film Festival has grown steadily since 1985 despite mounting fears about digital developments harming the film industry. So how has this independent film festival in Utah taken on the world now that the world can watch anything it wants?


One of Sundance London’s biggest films in 2014 was Drunktown’s Finest, directed by Sydney Freeland. Freeland, who funded the film through Kickstarter, said at the festival, “with technology today there’s no excuse not to make your move”. This is the message that Sundance promotes, backed by its founder and president.

Crowdfunding played a significant role in this year’s festival, with Kickstarter projects making up 10% of the schedule. As Kickstarter and other platforms come into their own, more independent projects stand a chance of airing at Sundance.

Redford’s latest starring role also raises questions around the effects of digital technology on the world of film. All Is Lost has a brief 32-page script with one character and barely any dialogue. Despite this the film has been hailed for its emotional power, with Redford’s nameless character battling against the elements alone.

Is Redford facing similar struggles in the real world?

The evidence suggests not. Sundance is now bigger than ever, and starting to spread its wings further afield.

The new millennium was a particular turning point for Sundance. With new opportunities like online streaming and digital projection of the films themselves, the 2000 festival began a new era.

One year later Sundance launched its Online Film Festival, giving fans instant access to short films. The site received 3.3 million hits, taking independent film into new territory.

The rise of YouTube allowed Sundance to reach a wider audience and their own channel, SundanceTV, launched in 2006. This outlet on the world’s second largest search engine has been an incredible success, with over 23.5m views on SundanceTV to date.

The festival itself now has a London presence, attracting hordes of film buffs to Greenwich every year since 2012. Independent filmmakers in the UK can now enjoy the support and exposure that Sundance brings, and there’s certainly no shortage of talent to showcase.


All Is Lost and other films championed by Sundance are daring examples of what film can do. Sundance explores how film can survive as access to the world’s back catalogue gets easier. In doing so it keeps returning to one answer – tell great stories.

So Redford’s embattled sailor, an aging explorer in an unpredictable environment, proves that all is not lost – that embracing digital technology need not dictate the kind of films we watch, but might just rescue us from stormy seas.

Images courtesy of Movie Web and Sundance Institute