Archive for the ‘Social Media Class – Georgetown’ Category

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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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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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Trip to Tunisphere

July 13, 2008

The mere coincidence of the first letter of my name and Tunisia made this small North-African country a relevant pick for my class assignment this week to plunge into and explore the international bloggoshpere via Global Voices Online.

My perception of Tunsia has developed in three stages over the years. Stage number one – wishful thinking. Stage number two – the mediated reality check through the eyes of a friend. Stage number three – the virtual reality check.

During stage one Tunisia has always seemed to me like a very attractive travel destination. I remember seeing an article about some gorgeous Tunisian Mediterranean seaside resorts several years ago in a flight magazine. Then, last year one of my best friends made a trip there and provided an exciting account with plenty of photos, but emphasized that the place looks and feels far from the polished tourist magazine image.

Here I am concerned mainly with stage number three – expriencing Tunsia through its blogosphere or as they call it over there – the Tunisphere. This online trip proved to be the closest to reality from all my previous impressions. In my wanderings throughout Tunisian blogs I arrived at several observations. First, it is a vibrant community of bloggers, many of them rightfully concerned with the issues of political freedom, human rights, social justice and freedom of expression, which apparently are seriously threatened there. Second, Tunisian bloggers fill in a void space that official media do not reflect and the consequesnces of being a blogger and a journalist in Tunsia often include censorship, closing down of your blog or publication, job loss, personal freedom restrictions and even imprisonment. That was the case with Slim Boukhdhir, who remains in detainment since December, 2007, and has gone on numerous hunger strikes to protest the harrassment he experienced in jail by Tunisian authorities.

What is happening to blogger and journalist Slim Boukhdhir is terrible and at the same time not surprising in a country, where YouTube is banned. Yes it is, believe it or not! You can not access the biggest online video sharing service anywhere in Tunsia, because the government is affraid that you might stumble upon footage of police violence on Tunisian workers in the rich Phosphorous mines of Gafsa, Redyef and Oum el Arayess, who went on strike earlier this year to defend their right of employment. Many people were seriously injured. Official media remained silent, as if nothing was happening. This was the first case when Tunisian bloggers joined forces with human rights activitist in getting the story of repression out to the rest of the world. They even posted videos, showing wounded protestants.

The Tunisphere is a land of contrast. Just like Tunsia itself – it has both a serious and a casual face. Aside from the serious human rights and freedom of expression issues, there is obviously a young, hip, fashion and style-conscious generation in the country, which also contributes to the bloggosphere. A good example is one of the winners of the first ever Tunisia Blog Awards. Yosra World received the “Most Trendy Blog” award in 2007. Another top Tunisian blog is Subzero Blue, which is one of the few written in English.

A curious news that circulated in the Tunishere very recently is about Dahsha – the new online Arabic encyclopedia. Tunisian bloggers introduce and discuss how it is similar and different from Wikipedia. The principle of volunteer contributors is the same, but Dahsha publishes also video materials, studies and books, which are not supported by Wikipedia as types of content. It currently holds over 32,000 articles and is aiming to “enrich Arab content on the Internet”, according to blogger Mohammed Marwan Meddah. I wonder what are the chances of Dahsha joining Wikipedia one day? And I ask myslef – does it really have to? No doubt it is a different voice in the virtual conversation of knowledge and perhaps it is better for us to be able to draw on a multitude of authentic voices and viewpoints instead of trying to merge the sources.

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Whole Foods Wikified: The Scanner Report

July 7, 2008

What do Bill Clinton, cannabis, right-wing politics and robber barrons have in common? Well, their Wikipedia pages have been subject to some interesting interventions by Whole Foods Market Inc. For this assignment I decided to apply my graduate-student curiosity to my own employer. I chose to report on the WikiScanner data for Whole Foods, provided that I have never been involved in any Wkipedia activity from within the company, and I discovered over 400 changes introduced to various Wikipedia pages from IP addresses associated with Whole Foods’ global headquarters in Austin, Texas.

THE SELF-EDITS

It is not surprising that the most numerous changes made by the company on a single Wikipedia page are on the Whole Foods Market page . Those are total of 22 changes introduced from March 2005 to August 2007, when WikiScanner was last updated. It is reasonable for every organization to keep tack of the information describing it in the world’s largest free online encyclopedia and intervene with updates and/or corrections of factual errors when necessary. Let’s take a closer look at the online edits made by Whole Foods, which in some cases are  self-explanatory and in other leave us food for thought about the implications of the changes…

Labor Issues

In relation to common criticim received by Whole Foods about its lack of labor union structures, it is intersting to observe how one sentence was changed several times on the company’s Wikipedia page in October 2005. It started out as: “2004 Madison, Wisconsin Whole Foods Market elects to rid themselves of the union” and was finally left at: “2004: Whole Foods Market Madison no longer union after NLRB (National Labor Relations Boardruling.” The sentence is absent from the current page whatsoever.

The FTC & SEC Case

Another major page edit is in relation to the latest controversy surrounding the company in the summer of 2007 – the Federal Trade Commision‘s investigation challenging the aquisition of Wild Oats by Whole Foods Market. The edit of July 7, 2007, says: “… CEO John Mackey has taken the unusual step of initiating a blog on the subject to explain his opposition to the FTC’s stance.” In reallity the opposite happened – the CEO’s existing blog was suspended a week later, due to an informal inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission about the online annonymous postings of John Mackey in financial forums. The blog was relaunched in May 2008 after the end of the investigation.

Product Quality

Two more types of information were tweeked by Whole Foods in the company’s Wikipedia page. One of the changes shows how a quote by the Organic Consumers Association about the company’s product quality was shortened by removing the second sentence claiming that: “Supposedly, Whole Foods’ food is grown traditionally and sometimes genetically altered. ” Another correction under the Product Quality section made one statement about toxic substances sound more general – not necessarily associated with Whole Foods’ products, but with just products by and large.

PETA

The last of the curious self-edits on the page is a change in the order of listing between a 2003 PETA protest against Whole Foods’s purchasig duck from farms with animal-cruelty practices and the fact that in 2005 the company established its Animal Compassion Foundation to help producers raise farm animals humanely. The chronological order of the two facts is reversed to the advantage of the 2005 event.

THE “OTHER” EDITS

Bill Clinton

cannabis

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

So, what about Bill Clinton, cannabis, right-wing politics and robber barrons? Someone at Whole Foods likes Bill Clinton very much. To the point that they went into his Wikipedia page in March 2006 and declared that “… (Clinton) went on to become one of our nations greatest and most fair minded presidents in our nations history.” Another person at Whole Foods  must have decided that the ancient history of the drug cannabisand the way it was used in rituals by traditional cultures for centuries might be unnecessary or irrelevant to Wikpedia readers and with one stroke of the Del key ereased a huge chunk of comprehensive, referenced information. The same day Clinton’s page was edited, someone else from the same company set an alarm in the Right-wing politics page: “… the conservative mastermindes are plotting to overthrow us and send our great country into a whirlwind of economic depression…” Meant as joke or not, but the name of Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackay appeared at one point in June 2007 in the list of robber barrons in Wikpedia and… the entry was made from his own company’s IP address.

INTERESTING FIREWORKS

Some of the findings of this report are surprising, others – not. Has Whole Foods displayed the common kinds of disinformation bahavior listed by WikiScanner creator Virgil Griffith? Can we call the above examples “wholesale removal” of text paragraphs or “white-washing”? The answer to this is up to the reader.  After all, one of the reasons why Virgil gave WikiScaner to the world is for us “To see what “interesting organizations” are up to.” He has indeed succeeded to create a “fireworks display” of public relations bloopers and no single company is safe from them.

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My Second Fat Li(f)e

June 30, 2008

I walked around exploring the town and within thirty minutes or so I managed to buy my own little home in a project in the outskirts. I found my fridge empty, but made a modest meal plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, avoiding the Atkins BBQ Short Ribs and the Atkins Oriental Beef, listed in the menu options. I do not trust diets, especially when they are advertised. I found the nearest grocery store and bought some food. Then I started up a small business – I quickly became the owner of a coffee shop that costed me several hundred dollars. It did not make any money the first day, because while I was wondering what to serve my customers they kept disappearing within 7-10 seconds of waiting at their tables. Well, since business was not doing well, I decided to walk across town and take a look at the cemetery. After a short brisk walk halfway to the other side of town I started panting and had to stop… I guess my age, overweight situation and predisposition to hypertension, all of which I disclosed when signing in, were the reasons for that. Meanwhile, a pink-haired girl quickly passed me by jogging on the sidewalk. Welcome to Fatworld!

It was not me, but my character that was panting on the street and refused to move on for a while, even if I was pressing hard on the buttons that made it walk. Fatworld by Persuasive Games caught my attention and willingess to try it by its focus on nutrition and obesity. An intriguing topic for me! There is not much interaction between the characters in the game, but I came across some clear messages. The structure of the town was divided into poor and upscale communities. Fast food places and diners were to be found closer to the project housing and sit-in fine-dining restaurants were right next to the spacious mansions with back-yard swimming pools. One year in Fatworld is equl to one real-life day. I think I can afford spending more time there to further experience what will become of me in a accelerated mode – will I live or die – with the food/exercise activities I choose for my character.

My Second Life experience is still short-lived. I lingered around on the Orientation Island and the coolest thing were the supernatural abilities of my character – being able to fly or walk on the bottom of the sea. A wonderful feeling of freedom! I spent some time dressing and modeling my avatar and spoke to a couple of confused newcomers like myself. Second Life seems to require a lot of time from one’s Real Life. An amusing typo, applicable to both, made me think of which is more truthful – Second Lie or Real Lie?

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Here Comes Wikipedia for Everybody

June 29, 2008

Wikipedia is the promise for a fast, easily acessible and free encyclopedia for everybody. This is a quick definition of it, were we to ask Clay Shirky. In his book “Here Comes Everybody” he reveals for us the holy trinity of an open-source project: “Promise. Tool. Bagain.” With his opening StolenSidekick story in the book Shirky illustrates how social media can change leverage opportunities and the way people get together and cooperate, regargless of the particular cause or purpose.

After delving into Wikpedia and its rules I came to the conclusion that we should trust it more than an expert-led encyclodedia. For one thing is it updated faster and represents considerable collective knowledge that is always richer than that of individual experts. The 5 percent false information in Wikipedia reminds me of the one spoonful of tar that can ruin a whole keg of honey. It is tricky, if we can never tell which piece of information in Wikipedia is the spoonful of tar, but I would disagree that in this case it may ruin it all.

I do not believe that the untrue information is dispersed evenly throughout Wkipedia. The existence of discussions about pages, rules and warning notes when an entry is incomplete or lacks citations is already a strong watchdog mechanism to guarantee the truthfulness (not truthiness) of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia’s honesty is present in the fact that it contains unsensored controvesial information about itself…  Here is an extract from the Wikipedia entry titled “Criticism of Wikipedia“:

Wikipedia, a free content encyclopedia project written by volunteers, has attracted criticism along with its size and popularity. Notable criticisms include that its open nature makes it unauthoritative and unreliable (see Reliability of Wikipedia), that it exhibits systemic bias, and that its group dynamics hinder its goals.”

Let’s pause for a moment and consider how many companies or organizations we can think of that have done that – on their own websites! Most of them would never (by corporate comunication rules) even iterate the name of their competitors in public, so as not to give them media exposure.