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Politics Online

July 28, 2008

Politics and political campaigns will never be the same after this one. The first US presidential campaign is taking place in the era of social media.  Or as Garrett Graff calls it “The First Campaign”, which is “defined by technology” and where for the first time “technology is both the medium and the message“. Yes, we do perceive the candidates by what they say, but we also pay attention to how they say it, by what means.

TechRepublican posted today a short interview with Jeff Jarvis of the BuzzMachine, where he briefly comments on how YouTube has been useful throughout the presidential campaign, because it gives us a lot more than just sound bites and he quotes Barack Obama’s thirty-minute speech that received a lot of attention. Asked about whether the next US President should keep posting videos on YouTube, Jarvis replies positively, because (as he puts it): “It is a new relationship.”

An interesting comment follows the brief interview with Jarvis, pointing to a link to a White House Video Tour, where President Bush takes virtual visitors around the Oval Office. Drew, who posted the link, believes that online videos give us a totally different perspective of someone. However, after seeing the seven-minute clip, my perception of the current President and his “eloquence” did not change much – he is repeating phrases and making several silly comments. Ironically, Drew’s comment claiming that presidents posting videos “is already happening and becoming history” misses the whole point of Web 2.0. YouTube features user-generated content, it is a dialogue, where you can actually see how popular the posted video is, vote, post comments and video responses. I can not even begin to draw the huge difference between a video placed on an Web 1.0 institutional monologue-style website and the dynamic exchange that makes YouTubea social media platform.

Reading this comment provoked me to sum up an up-to-date comparison of the YouTube activity of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama’s campaign is pretty tech savvy and this is no discovery, but ho much ahead of the game is he on YouTube?

Total Number of YouTube videos:

  • Obama – 1,200 videos
  • McCain – 200 videos

Number of subscribers to their YouTube Channel

  • Obama – 65,000 people
  • McCain – 8,400 people

Most watched video

  • Obama – 4,700,000 views (that is the 30-something minute video Jarvis refers to above!)
  • McCain – 400,000 views

It is clear that where McCain is in the hundreds, Obama is in the thousands. Where McCain is in the hundreds of thousands, Obama is in the millions.

Here’s one of the things YouTube does best – work as a repository of TV-produced pieces, prolonging their life and the buzz around them. Like this sophisticated satire of Obama+Messiah=Obamessiah:

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YouTube Censorship

July 27, 2008

A recent post by TheMachineisUs about his visit to Istanbul, where he whitnessed first-hand Internet censorship reminded me of my own reaction of amazement, when I first learned that YouTube is banned in Tunisia earlier this month. The reason why the Turkish court banned YouTube is the exchange of offensive videos between Greek and Turkish users, which turned into an on-line war. The reason for that in Tunisia was to conceal government’s repression over protesters. I have so taken access to the Internet for granted both here in the United States and in Bulgaria, that these examples of censorship woke me up to fact that this may be very different in other countries. It suddenly occurs to me to try and find out online evidence of how many countries have ever banned YouTube, who they are and for what reasons. Perhaps there is a register kept somewhere…

Yes, there is! After googling for a while under several search criteria, voila – I find that Wikipedia has taken care of this on a page titled Blocking of YouTube. Thirteen countries are listed there.  They have blocked temporarily or permanenty acces to the entire YouTube site or parts of it. I am glad Bulgaria is not part of the list even though we know first-hand what political censorship means from the no-so-far-away past before 1989. But of course that was the pre-Internet era, when offline books were “arrested”.

freedom of expression behind bars

Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Brazil are in the blockers list. What’s common is that with only a few exceptions most of them are countries in Asia. I am not drawing any conclusions here, just sharing an observation. The reasons for the Blocking of YouTube worldwide range from politicial censorship, through religious concerns to adult content bans. The case with Pakistan’s blocking of YouTube in February this year raised not just censorship issues, but an alarm about security and trust on the Internet, as Brian Krebs of the Washington Post argues in his Security Fix blog post. Due to a technical glitch YouTube acces was blocked not only in Pakistan, but in the entire world for seveal hours. Krebs asks the challenging question: “What would our government make of it, say, if all of a sudden all traffic destined for .gov domains wound up in China or North Korea?” He suggests that diplomatc trouble can be stirred up by jeopardizing Internet trust.

My question after reading all this is: Are we to expect the list of countries blocking YouTube to grow in the future?

I would be curious to keep an eye on it.

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Taxicab Tricks International

July 26, 2008

I just became aware of the whole D.C. taxicab discussion thread initated by Shannon with a comment by Majorman and posts by Everyonelovesavegangirl and Mknac. I agree with Everyonelovesavegangirl – D.C. has been lucky to have the zone system. In Bulgaria, where I come from, all taxicabs run on meters all the time. Their tricks of trying to take circumvented routes to extend a ride are an annoying memory from my over ten-year long taxicab riding experience in Sofia.

I totally agree with Shannon that with the new meter system in D.C. you have to stay alert looking at the meter all the time. That is one stressful trip, isn’t it?!  Having a predictable fee range with the zone system has been a convenience, especially when you don’t know your way around the city. On my first encounter with the zone system while visiting DC in 2001 I though this system was brilliant. Especially given the fact that two of my co-workers and I had a cab ride to a wrong address for a meeting and had to figure out what the right place was. We wandered for an extra half an hour downtown D.C. and it did not cost us more than crossing one zone. Having a meter on top of that situation would have made it even more pressing.

I like the metro, buses and just walking in D.C. I don’t have to drive anywhere and I have used cabs less than ten times for two years in D.C., but still I would not change the zone system to meters, because it reminds me of the situation back home. It is, however, aggravated by the fact that taxicab drivers in Bulgaria are definitely two things together – philosophers and heavy smokers. Many of them will not consider asking your permission or even warning you that they are about to choke you with smoke. On top of that they will tell you their life story (in a nutshell, if you are lucky to have a short ride), complain how awful the economic situation is, blame it on the politicians and lay out their views of how we can all live better, if we can get rid of the current government (whatever that happens to be at the moment). All this time you are keeping an ear on their rants over a constant high-volume stream of pop-folk music and, of course, keeping an eye on the meter…

Downtown Sofia - taxicabs' protest infront of the Parliament

Sofia - taxicabs' protest infront of the Parliament

Very often taxicabs in Bulgaria would refuse to give you a ride for a short distance. I guess it’s either not feasible for them or they are just lazy, waiting for that super-long-ride customer to show up… Only once in my life did I hear a cab driver who expressed the opposite view – he claimed that he would take a customer even for a one-block long ride, because, he argued, you never know who’s waiting around the corner. And he went on to give me the example of a cab that picked a customer for a really short ride to a hotel in Sofia, where he was hailed immediately by another customer, who was actually ready to pay a four-hour ride to another city all the way on the other side of the country. This is like hitting the jackpot in taxicab world!

Mknac’s blog post on D.C. taxicabs gives a list of tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of the meter system and I find them reasonable and very useful. With one further suggestion – very often, if you as a customer are trying to be too much in control of the cab ride, the driver might act secretly spiteful and “take you for a ride” in ways you have not figured out yet. So, being moderately assertive is better.

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Matching Niches

July 25, 2008

The Long Tail

I am fascinated with the topic Shannon raises in her blog entry on “The Long Tail & Dating“, because I just realized I have been there. I am a living example of The Long Tail applied to dating. I did indeed find my special one on Match.com little less than a year ago. Also, there is one more person I know, who did this successfully, after I encouraged her to try, based on my positive experience with the online dating service. Even though I often joke about that I should be a paid spokesperson/endorser of Match.com – no, I do not receive a fee to promote it. I have not even considered taking the time to go back to Match.com and share my “success story”. Instead, I just informally encourage single people who do not want to be single anymore to try it with the warning that it is what you make of it. The service is just a tool, but it is up to you to be honest about who you are and be specific about who you are looking for. As with all things, destiny and luck play a role, but they are definitely aided by your conscious attempt to change the situation for yourself.

Filling out a form to find that special someone seems hilarious. It did seem mechanic to me at first – marking with checks my preferred options. Almost like ordering a meal or choosing a piece of clothing. That is why I like to say that my boyfriend came to me “out of a catalogue” and “tailor-made”. Now that I think of it – he is as imperfect as my own online search criteria 🙂 But seriously, the system works in a very customized way, which saves you many questions/doubts you would have for someone you met the traditional way. I am not saying it is safer. I am only saying it’s easier.

In her blog Shannon quotes The Long Tail that “there is something for everyone” out there to find on the web. When we apply The Long Tail to dating and relationships, it would sound like: There is someone for everyone. Reminds me of a Bulgarian saying from the pre-Internet era: “There is a passenger for every train”. And if we are talking about niches, what could be more specific and authentic than another human being. There are no replicas of people and even the most rare products/things on the (online) market have copies. So, the web simply helps us find this unque one person for us, when he/she is missing in our life. An almost devine function, isn’t it?! The amazing part is how random and yet precise online matching is.

I agree with Shannon that the Internet has changed markets and has influenced our personal lives as well. And to the opponents or disbelievers of online dating I would respond: If we are as picky as to what piece of software or pair of shoes we want (to buy online), why would our search for a relationship be less careful than that? I did it once and it worked at once. So, I am a believer. 

There is one questions that people in love ask each other, when they finally meet: “So, where have you been all this time?”. My “Long Tail” answer to today is: “In a special niche, waiting to match your search criteria”.

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Corporate Blogs

July 24, 2008

I went exploring corporate blogs after our Omni Class and browsed through some blogs that were given as good examples. I also discovered some new I didn’t know about. One of the successful examples shown in class, Johnson & Johnson’s blog “By the Way”, impressed me by its authentic tone. It sounds very approachable, friendly. It does have a human voice, which is consistent even though several authors contribute to the blog.

The most exciting entry I found in the JNJ BTW blog was related to their corporate social responsibilty projects. It is a first-person narrative about a trip to Africa, where the company supports educational and HIV prevention awareness pograms in Tanzanian schools and helped build a medical center for burning injuries in South Africa. Those are great stories that regular media would not fit into their limited time/space slots, but the company’s blog is an excellent way to not only get the word out, but tell the whole story. More importantly, it works, because it is not corporate speak or PR-speak, it is emotional, it is personal and that’s what makes it valuable and credible.

A blog that was not mentioned in class, but occurred to me as an idea to google-search is any existing blog of The Coca-Cola Company. And there it was – fresh, brand new and their only one so far: Coca-Cola Conversations. Coke seems to have jumped a bit late on the blog wagon, as their blog was launched in January this year. It’s  mostly a conversation about the brand’s history, collectible Coke items and Coke fan news. The best thing about it is that it is written by the company’s historian Phil Mooney, who has been with Coke for 30 years!!! How many corporate bloggers can say that? He does a good job of linking current events with past glorious moments of the company and its brands. It makes sense for the blog to be brand-focused, but I believe the company faces many other critical topics it should be engaging into conversations about. Nutrition and health is definitely one of them. This topic is featured on the main company website, which, however, still resides in Web 1.0 and is not as conversational as a blog.

The Coca-Cola Conversations blog was just featured by NBC Nightly News in a report that tells how corporate blogs have tripled in just two years. It gives an impressive account of how the 76-year-old Marriott CEO is also the company’s chief blogger even though he can not type and calls hiself a “technophobe”. He usually handwrites or voice-records his posts, which end up posted on the blog by a member of his communication team. After the report was aired, Bill Marriott actually put up a post titled “How Do I Blog“, explaining how it works. His blog was created one year before the Coke blog – in January 2007.

And, well, I take my words back about who is the blogger with more than 30 years of experience in a company. Bill Marriot wins over Coke’s historian Phil Mooney, I am sure.

* photos used here were taken fom the JNJ BTW blog and the Coca-Cola Conversations blog.

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War 2.0, Unedited

July 21, 2008

Here I am today – munching some Middle Eastern staple food (pita bread with hummus) for a quick lunch and reflecting on this week’s class topic about the Iraq war’s on-line dimensions and how the Internet is changing our perception of war. While browsing through the overwhelming amount of on-line materials related to the war in Iraq – blogs, videos, articles, discussions – it occurs to me as a surprise that there are no two sides of the story. There are plenty! There are as many sides as the number of people involved in the global conversation about it with their unique perspectives, narrative and view points.

The Internet and Web 2.0 put us literally in the middle of the action in this war. In previous wars it has also been possible for us to be exposed to first-hand narrative from soldiers interviewed by the media or TV footage. What is different now is that soldiers and war victims (refugees) have become the media themselves, giving us the ultimate live feed of stories from the trenches. It is the first-person account of war, unedited. For real. Do we need to be that close to the war? Yes, we do. And this is not a question of good or bad. It is a reality and a necessity. We should have that much access to the front lines of the war, because of their right to share and our right to know.

One of the topics concerning the war in Iraq that grabbed me was how children and young people are influenced by it and how they relate to what is happening. That is bearing in mind not only the suffering of Iraqi kids and youth, but also the fact that so many American soldiers are young people themselves. I found an interesting juxtaposition between two stories reported by the War News Radio earlier this year. The first one described how it is unsafe and practically impossible for Iraqi young people to meet or even date, as public social life is non-existent there any more and they have to resort to the use of the Internet to keep in touch, chat, talk via Skype and make friends. In the second story the mother of a 23-year old American soldier tells how her son came back from his deployment in Iraq suffering shame, gult, trauma, disillusionment and paranoia and was constantly getting in trouble by trying to “bring the adrenaline back”. She says the first time her son went to war for the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq. The second time his reason changed to “oil”, as his belief in the cause of this war dwindled.

The Iraq war brought not only disappointment about its purpose, but also disappointment about how it is protrayed by traditional media. Soldier Brian Paul, for example, came to the bitter conclusion that the media fails to show the reality experienced by the American troups in Iraq. This prompted him to find a remedy for all misleading or inaccurate media reports on any topic by creating the FixMedia website. There citizens can flag problematic media content. Would Brian have done it, if he had not experienced personal disappointment? I don’t know. But it is good to know that he enabled at least one open place on the web that is free from politically biased fact checking on media stories with the only purpose “to seize the truth”.

One last note about young people involved in the war – they are social media savvy and want to have fun, as shown in this video, I came across today entitled “Dance Party in Iraq”. It may seem strange and my first reaction was to get judgemental, but then it occured to me that it actually provides one authentic and vivacious perspective, doesn’t it?

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Knox Leon & Vivienne Marcheline dot coms

July 14, 2008

This post is about… babies, celebrity brands and web domains.

Two days ago the world held its breath waiting for Angelina Jolie to give birth to twins. The media and paparazzi hysteria about this event is not surprising at all. They are, of course, following every move of the most beautiful and successful Hollywood couple 24/7.  What surprised me  was the short note in one of the very first reports of the news, that on the day the babies were born (July 12, 2008), even before their birth was announced to the media, the lawyers of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased all possible domain names for Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline.

celebrity baby name domains taken

celebrity baby name domains taken

Just Jared reported 24 different variations of the babies’ full names were purchased by the star couple’s lawyers immediately after the twins’ birth. The extensive list includes all possible “.com”, “.org”, “.net”, “.biz”, “.info” and “.us” domains.

I am wondering – has this ever happened before? I mean with other celebrity babies? Well, if it has not happened so far, it will start happening, since the Brangelina couple are definitely trend-setters. I could not find information on the web confirming that the name domains for the other Jolie-Pitt kids have been bought off like this. Are the twins’ names more special than the other children? Is their parents’ top concern to prevent people from taking advantage of the Jolie-Pitt brand on-line?

In a discussion about this with friends today, I heard a suggestion that perhaps all parents should do that – buy the domain names for their children even if they are not celebrities currently. Then, one day they can blackmail their own kids, who become famous and sell them back their on-line brand names. Sounds crazy, but think about stars estranged from their parents, like Angelina Jolie, who does not want to have anything to do with her own father. What would have happened, if he had registered and possessed her domain name? Would this be a reason for serious conflict and further divide or something that could perhaps bring them closer together as a family?