Category Archives: Responses

Response#12: The First Campaign and the Last Class!

For your final blog post, please predict, based on what you’ve learned and what your *imagination* says, what you think will be key to winning the 2012 election online.

I don’t know where social media will be 2012.  Mobile technology and Smartphone will likely make a huge processing leap and will likely play a much greater role.  I can see how augmented reality SRengine might be helpful in the field if combined with the face recognition technology of a platform like Flickr.   The campaigns themselves will likely place online and tech higher up the campaign hierarchy.  Governor Pawlenty’s first hires for a possible run wasn’t a top-tier political strategist but online campaign experts.  Garrett’s piece in Infonomics and Mike’s work through Edelman also both called to attention that social media tools are tools not a strategy.  Finally, the candidate’s themselves will have to not only be comfortable with a media environment influenced by social media, but they will have to thrive in it as President Obama did in 2008.

From the Book: "Obama's Blackberry"

The social media component of both President Obama’s reelection and his challenger will have to maintain (Obama) or establish (his opponent) trust with the user/voter.

First: I think that based on the impressive online, grassroots, contributor network that President Obama amassed in the 2008, it will be difficult, though not impossible for a Republican candidate to win the 2012 Presidential election.  Call it Metcalfe’s Law for politics, but while this network might not have the surge of passion of 2008, it is still there and as it grow steadily larger, it will be hard for a challenger to catch up.  Governor Palin has 3 million Facebook friends to President Obama’s seven million.  Could she overcome him? Also despite what Zephyr Teachout predicted, Organizing For America is still going strong and recently set its sites on Governor Palin.

This is not to say that President Obama’s reelection campaign will be able to just dust off the magic playbook and run the same type of outsider, grassroots campaign that proved so successful against to political brands (Clinton & McCain).  President Obama can’t run on ‘change’ or ‘outside the beltway’ as now, he is part of the establishment.  Also, 2008 was unique in that it was the first open campaign since 1920, where there wasn’t an incumbant or Vice-President running. And while I think it is unlikely that ‘progressives,’ will shoot themselves in the foot and push for a primary challenger, in the three years before the first ballot in Iowa, President Obama is going to have do more than perpetually and eloquently articulating his message and get something done.


Last year when I started a similar social media class with Garrett Graff (a class which I later withdrew from to join the campaign), he mentioned one thing that stuck out in my mind.  Then Senator Obama, like Governor Dean, had to take the grassroots social media approach because the establishment angle was both already filled (Sen. Clinton) and wouldn’t fit his political narrative.  In David Ploufe’s recent book, The Audacity to Win, he acknowledges as much that the traditional constituencies were already carved out by Senator Clinton (party faithful) and Senator Edwards (political activists).  Ploufe believed that the only way to win Iowa (which was the ball game against the formidable Clinton legacy) was to galvanize a third category of voters (young people, Republicans & Independents, and first-time voters).  Now  those constituencies are President Obama’s as well as young people and some R & I holdouts.  If social media is about ‘conversations,’ who is left to talk to?


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Response#11- N is for Namibia

One of the things I am noticing about the African blogosphere through the platform of Global Voices is that group formation is still in its infancy .  If Shirky is correct, and social tools’ strength comes from the informal collaboration of groups around activities that valuable to some but impractical for an institution, than this may be a reason that the type of group action (flash mobs) found in Belarus aren’t taking off in places like Namibia.  I don’t want this post to sound like online activism is not happening in Namibia or elsewhere on the continent, as clearly, they’re groups forming around female circumcision and government criticisms, Going back to the Brabazon criticism I pointed out a few weeks ago, there is a gap between an offline context from posts (here, here, and here) that maintain a journalistic and/or personal blog feel, and the group dynamic of social tools.  This gap could be attributed to issues of access, literacy, and anonmity from the perspective of potential African users,  and most certainly to my Western proclivity of lumping all African countries together.  I while I know that mobile technology is considered the burgeoning medium within developing countries, I think there is a difference between mobile activism which supplements traditional online activism (popular in Western countries) and restricted to mobile activism only (in many developing countries). Christian Kreutz has an interesting presentation on Mobile Activism in Africa that basically says that while the potential for mobile technology and the growth of its usage particularly in Africa are hopeful signs, there are still many obstacles for this type of group action driven by social tools to reach critical mass.  Interesting sidenote: Kreutz cites the group Azur which used both SMS technology and a local radio talkshow to hit both the technologically literate and illiterate regarding the issue of domestic violence.  I am starting to wonder if this type of cross platform (new and old technologies) collaboration may be the catalyst for group formation as it captures people’s curiousity about a particular movement who wouldn’t otherwise participate.  It makes me think about how the Dean campaign appeared huge on the blogosphere because the bulk of his most ardent supporters were on the blogosphere too. Rallies with hundreds of people seemed great for the darkhorse candidate but it was roughly the same narrow niche who were finding out about campaign activities through the internet.  The blog posts from Global Voices in Namibia seemed siloed by individual and the activities relegated to those narrow few who visit the site.

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Response#10-First experience editing Wikipedia

What I learned from my experience editing a Wikipedia entry:

1. The standard form of book entries varied: Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class; were all outlined a little differently.

2. For as often as the above books are referenced, only Friedman’s had an extensive entry and Florida’s book was just a stub.

3. Neutral Point of View (NPOV) is easier said than done.  Most of the time I spent was getting acquainted with how other collaborators wrote about an author’s view-point.

4. There is a real opportunity within these social and cultural works to start a dialogue that isn’t happening.  Shirky has a few noncontroversial critiques that in my opinion make valid points despite in one case affirming a the restrictions placed on institutional knowledge.

5.  Wikipedia taught me the value of a good link.  I shied away from blog posts despite one of the most cogent arguments coming from a traditional print author turn blogger, Tom Slee.  His argument of the two voices of Here Comes Everybody (Shirky- is the, ‘perceptive and creative interpreter of the ways that digital technology is changing society AND ‘Clay-the ‘is a techno-enthusiast and an inveterate story-teller) articulates my own unformulated issues with the book.  The irony of Wikipedia, is that a user-generated post like that of Slee’s may not be authoritarian enough because it lacks the formal institutional backing that Wikipedia is the antithesis of.

I enjoyed working on the entry mostly because I appreciated the source material, have nothing to gain from it, and would be willing to defend it should it get deleted.  It cost me a little (maybe more than a little) time, I am curious to see if anyone will add to the post, and after a little tinkering, I got the hang of formatting the entry.   The experience was the kind of ‘acceptable bargain,’ Shirky writes about.

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Response#9 Wikipedia . . .

Should we trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

I think the potential benefits of the long tail, the limitless space by which to accumulate information, and the organic nature of Wikipedia make it formidable resource for storing and gathering information.  But should we trust Wikipedia over an expert-led encyclopedia like the standard-bearer, Britannica? Should students be allowed to use Wikipedia as a primary source for their papers? Is the potential of the tragedy of the commons too big a cross to bear for the sake of disseminating information?   Is anonymous posting on Wikipedia a gateway to misrepresentation? Finally, is there reason to believe that there may be an inadvertent bias toward white, European-descendent males? Probably, no, no, not quite, and not sure.

On the issue of trust, I favor timeliness over institutions.  I will admit that like newspapers and some books, Wikipedia can be prone to errors, but as  Nature magazine found, so could Encyclopedia Britannica. I would venture to guess that particularly for more popular articles at least, Wikipedia has not only the ability to correct them, but have anyone come in and make the correction themselves.  The group monitoring that each category undergoes ensures that there isn’t a kind of stop the presses moment or worse an acceptance of the error after its too late to recall them (something that may occur with a print reference).  So why can’t students use Wikipedia as an original source?

My belief is that information is most constructive when it is static.  Wikipedia is a great resource for general timely overviews, but when formulating an idea, static information provides the sturdiest foundation for critical thinking. This can be particularly important when it comes to the descent by a minority view.  Even if this minority viewpoint is not accepted as correct, having the ‘mistakes,’ ‘visible,’ means that other can learn from it.  Using Wikipedia as the primary or sole source would be akin to believing that the first item that comes up from every term you type in a search engine will be exactly the item you need.  The act of rejecting a premise is as important as accepting one.

The story of John Seigenthaler is that often cited cautionary tale of the limits of Wikipedia and additional stories of the possible M15 mole SlimVirgin, EssJay, and Vandalism on Wikipedia Watch, if true, represents a disturbing vulnerability to Wikipedia’s open approach.  That said, the Britannica makes mistakes a 12-year old can find, textbooks can tell half truths or outright lies, ‘journalists‘ can make up stories out of thin air.  Wikipedia has demonstrated a willingness to refine their process to mitigate the possibility of the tragedy of the commons just as Britannica, modern textbooks, and MSM eventually corrected their own vulnerabilities.  The advent of WikiScanner, also goes a long way toward mitigating ‘foul play’ on the playground of the ‘people’s encyclopedia,’ while many textbooks have articles without attribution and newspapers are still allowed to print articles with, ‘sources close to . . .’

The last question was first brought to my attention at Antonella Weyler’s post last week about the relative homogeneity of Wikipedia authors.

If so, does the fact that the 83% of contributors are men, mostly white, put Wikipedia’s “representativeness” in check? Who is expressing the knowledge and experiences of the ones who have no access to internet: 93% of the population in African, 80% in Asia, 75% in the Middle East, and 70% in Latin and Caribbean American? Is Wikipedia articles biased by a limited perspective?

This might simply be an access issue but again, the over-representation of white mostly male techno-class isn’t unusual to the web generally but the same argument can be true for the gender inequity of collage professors or racial equity in media.

When it comes down to it, many of the issues with Wikipedia seem to be issues of scale and access.  If it were possible for Britannica to have over 32,000 (as one report has it for Wikipedia) contributors to their English language version, would people be criticizing them too? If Britannica could manufacture and distribute its volumes for free, would people criticize that Britannica is too accessible?

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Response#8 Crowdsourcing vs. Groupthink OR Looking for 20% OR Why halfbackery.com gets it right

My questions for evaluating crowdsourcing sites:

1. Does it follow Clay Shirky’s Principle of Promise, Tool, Bargain?

2. Who can actually join this ‘crowd’ or How easy is it to join the crowd?

3. Would I want to join this ‘crowd’?

4. Can I be myself and still be a part of the crowd (avoid groupthink)?

Josh Catone has even come up with rules (bottom of post) for successful crowdsourcing  on a ReadWriteWeb post from 2007 that were helpful but for me the key is whether a particular activity meets my personal sustained engagement threshold (me be the baromater for what any yahoo would do).  I poked around the crowdsourcing directory and a few other listings for different types of crowdsourcing sites (both ones clearly with marketing in mind or others that were meant for amusement-hat tip to classmate).  I admit the ones that are still going strong are genuinely neat.  Some were a little creepy like Perverted-Justice, some seem uncomfortably corporate like YourEncore and some were silly like Halfbackery.  What I couldn’t find was a crowd that is something more than momentarily interesting.  I look at something like Threadless and I am certainly impressed with the collective intelligence and it follows Catone’s rules.  I can’t confirm that Threadless follows the 80/20 rule, but I think I’m definitely in the 80.  Where I think sites fall a little short is when the psychological lift of viewing let alone engaging is higher than any red-blooded lurker is willing to go.  Threadless averages 5.6 pageviews a visitor based on Alexa.

If I had to pick one site that I keep coming back to it’s Halfbackery. I enjoy the mix of funny posts like the tumbleweed dispensor and creative like the phobia alarm clock and appreciate that its intent isn’t to be a repository for the next big idea like Cambrian House or bzzagent, but really just a place to share weird ideas.

From What the halfbakery isn’t

The site is also not a resource to help people guide their inventions from conception to completion. This is the place where you post the things you’re not going to be working on – because you can’t be bothered, or you don’t know how to, or because it’s not such a stellar idea after all.

The site is also not a marketplace where owners of patents find interested developers. Such sites exist (some are listed under links), but this isn’t one of them.

And finally, sending me email isn’t a good way of contacting the Dunkin’ Donuts corporation (but clicking on the preceding link is).

Any site that keeps my short-attention span for more than two pages, is about half-way to being a success in my book.  Halfbakery is simple enough a concept and its interface is ridiculously self-explanatory. The titles of the intentions draw you in for at least 3-5 inventions and the comments can be informative and are generally funny but the format is such that people don’t fall into the Borg mentality and stupid or brilliant (favoring stupid) your idea is given a fair shake from the group.   This is a fun group of 20% and I am about 50% sure that if I come up with something off-the wall crazy, I would post it on this site.

Links that I found interesting that I couldn’t fit into this post:

Dumbness of Crowds by Kathy Sierra

Top 100 Digg users control 56% of homepage content -80/20 Rule

Digital MaoismJaron Lanier


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Response#7 Most Surprising Thing About Social Media Class . . .

It has to be that the sheen of our web 2.0 world is a little faded from in 2007-2008 when I started and withdrew from a similar class. When I first read Shirky in mid-2008, I felt what it must have felt like to read Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999.  His was the kind of theoretical approach to the Brave New World of social media that I was both in awe of and excited to see how the world could change because of this medium that thrived in spite of traditional hinderance of money and resources.  I appreciated the case studies because they were largely around the frame of us, the users of the world, as global underdog that could take down theft safely behind laptops, almost shift the balance of power in entrenched political machines, and take down one of the world’s most powerful religious institutions.  Shirky in explaining the force of the many to many,  pitted us (the aggregate collaborators) versus powerful though narrowly focused institutions.

I wasn’t foolish to think that social media would mean a kind of perpetual digital revolution (Mao by way of Google), or that the kind of global realignment Shirky writes about would happen 15 months after he declared it, but maybe I hoped I was wrong.  The Obama campaign or Graff’s, ‘First Campaign’ may be the culprit in skewing my perception that campaign forced tradition media to wake up and take a gigantic leap forward. Tommaso Sorchiotti’s slideshare presentation aptly and comically depicts this.  The quixotic narrative of 2008 Presidential cycle lifted the resurrection narrative of the power of the web and vice versa.  Both are a bit of mythology of course, I do think that ascendance of the Obama campaign and the side-story of their online strategy made the most compelling argument for the power of social media.  But its 2009 almost 20-10, and I am left with thinking:

What’s Next?

All new media tools herald a new dawn in how we communicate but eventually it falls victim to the tragedy of the commons, right? I guess I thought the villian of this tragedy would be some lone-gunman type and not MSM or the social media tools themselves.   Social media, web 2.0 tools, and their companies are no different. Google, who could do no wrong in my book two years go has become just another company that is doing what it can to bend reality to its own creepy interests.  Twitter just saw its ultimate social potential when it was the go-to medium of reporting Iran elections protests by the US government no less and yet it bothers me that Ashton Kutcher has more followers than NPR.  When AIG has an RSS feed, it makes me want to stock my house with canned goods and wait for the Mayan Prophesy.  I am not saying that social media and web 2.0 tools have jumped the shark, just that we still seem to have made this leap and no one really knows what is next. Web 3.0 and the semantic web is probably years if not a decade away.  We are in this grey area where these tools are being actively adopted by the media institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times not because it generates revenue, but because it seems the only way to stay above mere relevancy.   Perhaps I thought in a web 2.0 world, Moore’s Law applied to social change as well as computing speed.  And maybe it does, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve culturally reached even a tenth of the journey to critical mass.  Perhaps this still an odd time to look back on the last six to ten years of the web 2.0 social media explosion and study it as you would artifacts.  It’s no longer new, yet we haven’t reached the point in this journey where we are closer to the end than the beginning.  Then again, there is something to Shirky’s notion that technology doesn’t get socially interesting until it becomes technologically boring, and this world of many to many communications isn’t boring yet.

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Response#6 The Time Vampire of MMPOGs

I am dating myself when I say that my videogaming experience was Commodore 64 and Atari in the early 80s. My folks loaded up with education games (most of which I can’t remember the names to), Frogger II (I never had Frogger I but I was able to follow the intricate plot points nonetheless) and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Loved this movie so much as a kid that I would continue to play this game to the third level but could never figure out how to get past it [The world cheats and hacks was not a possibility]).   Nintendo came later (I was Link) and I played Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda like an addict.  I got a Sega Genesis, which I thought would be my last game console until my father actually bought Nintendo Wii’s for every child in the family (3)  as well some of his friends (2).  Both sides of my grandparents have passed away so it could be worse.  They were impossibly hard to get in the town where he is so when they were finally scheduled to come in to the Sears, my dad actually waited outside the store the night of buy five to hand out to friends (completely insane).

Anyway, the point of most games that I played was to save someone, save the world, or stop someone from doing something bad.   I was the good guy, did the right thing and the fate of the world was riding on me.  That is a lot of pressure for a kid to put on himself but that kind of simple narrative fantasy makes sense when you are a kid who otherwise has no power, wealth or love.

What baffles me about MMPOGs like Second Life and World of Warcraft is 1. I am not there to save the world and be done with it.  2. I am not the center of attention.   3.  The simple narrative of Good vs. Evil seems to be blurred.  Some may argue that this third one is closer to real life.  But what is fun about that? I live in a world where good and evil are blurred everyday, why would I want my fantasy world to be the same?  Second Life in particular is the kind of time vampire, both because of its occasional choppiness, and also because its a straight simulation of the world where you have to decide the narrative, where I don’t know why anyone would play let alone exchange actual money to do the boring things people do in the real world.   “Buy digital representation of shoes that look nothing like real shoes? Sign me up!”

I can appreciate some MMPOG for there ability to foster teamwork, help those with mobility issues, and keep the Chinese employed.  But I want to be the only good guy in my fantasy world.

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