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On Campaign Videos

October 29, 2009

I’m proud to have once called this boy my friend:

I know it didn’t have the same impact as the Obamagirl videos, but it goes to show how much video matters!

Key Takeaways, Great and Small

October 29, 2009

I have a slight data fetish, so this week’s readings were a nice change of pace.  Sometimes when your environment is too touchy-feely, it’s nice to know that someone somewhere is taking facts and translating them into a real, effective strategy (as opposed to rationalizing decisions with “I feel like ….”).   I guess the moral of the moral of the story is, don’t get too caught up in the hype. People get excited about social networking even though good, old-fashioned email is the most important thing to focus on.  People make a big deal about Obama’s online campaign, which is, in fact exciting and novel, but a good online campaign can’t replace a good offline campaign.  This lesson applies to many instances where technology meets society.   For example, people act as though putting computers into schools will solve all sorts of education problems (i.e. getting kids to pay attention, teaching them “21st century skills”, etc.), forgetting that technology does no good without a coherent strategy behind it.

A lot of the findings from these papers seem pretty intuitive, but they are littered with moments that make me go, “Oh,  I hadn’t thought about that before!”  The effectiveness of email in these campaigns blows my mind–partly because everyone spends so much time getting excited about social networking, partly because emails rarely inspire me to take action, even on issues I deeply care about.    Even though it seems obvious that you would want to make your email as specific as possible for certain  groups, when I look back on my days of organizing campus events, I realize that I never tried to tailor my emails to my target audience.  It takes a lot of extra time and effort (or at least it seemed like it when I was an undergrad), so I’m glad that the payoff makes the effort worthwhile.

Another email note: It also seems obvious that emails should include only what is useful, and only come when necessary.  I would assume that minimizing email keeps people from getting annoyed or burned out.  According to the non-profits paper, however, “Cutting back on extraneous informational messaging may give subscribers fewer chances to leave your list.”  It’s a logical argument, but certainly not one I would have framed!

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get people to do things that are good for them–eat right and exercising, read the newspaper, read to their children, that sort of thing.  I’m trying to figure out how the lessons from the reading apply when I’m not trying to raise money or ask for any kind of large-scale action.  Rather, which of these gems of wisdom apply when you’re trying to get people to make good choices for themselves (and hopefully create more engaged citizens or alleviate the obesity epidemic along the way)?  There is potential in text message and email reminders, but how many reminders can people really take before everything becomes white noise?  Perhaps the answer lies in online communities like those described in Groundswell.   Which really brings me back to a bigger point, that different goals require different strategies and different technologies.

On Groundswell

October 21, 2009

I’ve been wondering if my mom should create some kind of online strategy for the tailoring business she started out of our home when I was 2 years-old.  When she started the business, she was the only tailor in town.  The shop grew quickly–when I turned 7, she relocated to a storefront closer to the 270 outerbelt which circumscribes Columbus.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed the hanging racks grow fuller and fuller, sagging under the weight of all that business!

Despite the fact that she hasn’t spent a dime on advertising in the past few years (except for sponsor ads in local high school newspapers and athletic team posters), she continues to get new customers thanks to excellent ratings on Angie’s list, which goes to show how well the groundswell works even when you aren’t doing a thing to feed it.  I wanted to use my Google Adsense ad to advertise her shop, but then realized she didn’t have a website.   In an ideal world where my mother wasn’t a total luddite (she can’t even turn on the computer) and was comfortable using English, she would, at the very least, have a website that listed her prices.  Her customers are always interested to know what exactly she’s doing to their clothing and what’s in style, and it might be interesting to have a blog that documents the tailoring process or gives my mom’s 2 cents on the latest fashions.   Unfortunately, this will never happen.  She’s too busy to write, especially in a non-native language.

On a totally different note, I’d be interested to learn more about how one can “talk” with the groundswell to affect behavioral change.  It’s a question we grapple with in the field of Education–how do we get busy, lower socio-economic-status parents to read to their children?  How do we motivate kids to become lifelong learners?  How do we teach kids the importance of civic engagement?   So far in the reading, we’ve seen large institutions react to groundswell chatter, and we’ve seen people change their brand loyalties, as in the Mini example and the Tampax example.  These things, to me, seem like things that people already want to do.

The book is on the whole a quick, pleasant read, and the social technographics profile seems like a useful way to break down user demographics.  I thought the www.beinggirl.com case was an especially brilliant (though somewhat questionable) strategy for reaching their target audience, though, having looked at the site, it’s a lot more instructional than the book described it to be.  Everything on the site is about menstruation or something equally embarrassing for an adolescent girl except for a few articles about being “boy crazy.”   I wonder if this model (putting together “information” and other things girls want to know) would be an effective model for education as well, or if it simply dilutes the point too much.

Cross-disciplinary! (and disjointed…)

October 14, 2009

It’s funny–as I was reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar, I couldn’t help but think that Eric Raymond would make the ideal student if he were a minor; he’s deeply invested in what he’s doing, willing to try and unafraid of failure (hence the releasing early and often).  Next week’s theme for my Technologies for Creative Learning class is “Communities of Learners“, where we’ll discuss Mizuko Ito et. al’s “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project“.   The paper divides new media usage among youth into two categories: friendship-driven and interest-driven, and Ito implies that we should prod youth towards interest-driven participation in online communities to maximize learning.  In these interest-driven online communities, the main activity is “geeking out,” which “involves learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise” (Ito et. al 28).  The activities associated with geeking out are almost always social, engaged, and driven by passion. Raymond’s bazaar-style of software development perfectly exemplifies this type of online learning community.

Conceptually,  Web2.0 is extremely attractive–I think the idea of a deeply-interested programming community who would rather collaborate to de-bug new, imperfect software than wait around for new releases of products that will probably be buggy anyway is pretty cool, and even beautiful.  It doesn’t even matter if everyone is self-interested in maximizing their “egoboo”; the end result of the participants’ collective labor (of love!) still makes everyone a little better off.  And if egoboo (and therefore reputation among the Web 2.0 community) is in fact the main currency at play , it’s possible that developers might try to appear altruistic when they are actually self-interested.

I like that the O’Reilly piece explicitly encourages developers to “[d]esign for ‘hackability’ and remixability”.    When I saw Ethan Zuckerman speak at the Shorenstein Center last week, he mentioned that his Mediacloud team didn’t have the resources to help the project reach its fullest potential, but they would make the source code available so that someone else might try to improve the project.  It amazes me that he can just trust that someone else will put in the time and effort to improve the project.  My natural tendency would be to worry that I had put in a lot of time and effort to build something that would go nowhere, but this week’s reading indicates otherwise; there are enough people out there who care about Linux and Fetchmail, so surely someone will pick up Mediacloud as well… right?

And so, once again, the key takeaway for the week is that deeply interested people are/can be mobilized to achieve great feats in their virtual lives.  The question is, does this virtual mobilization translate into action in the real world?

Journalism: Not Dead After All!

October 7, 2009

Contrary to what I wrote last week, the news is still good for news, just not for newspapers.   Up until I finished this week’s reading, I considered newspapers and journalism to be synonymous terms, but now I see it’s more like how squares are rectangles but rectangles are not squares.   Journalism is more than newspapers, and that’s an important distinction to make.

This week’s reading examined different models of journalism in the digital age.   The Rosenberg, Michel, and Andersen pieces really changed my ideas about public interest in information.  I used to think that most people were perfectly content not worrying about what was happening beyond their immediate environments (an attitude I probably developed during my angsty, high school years when that was probably true) but when I think about twelve thousand people volunteering with OffTheBus–not just reading it, it makes me realize that people aren’t what they were when I was 16.  All those people  volunteering for OTB or sifting through documents for The Guardian are committed (at least in principle) to putting out accurate information; granted, they are a small fraction of the global population, but certainly larger than I anticipated.   Then I think about the explosion of the blogosphere and the numbers of people flocking to blogs for information and I realize that people do want a fuller picture of the truth. In short, I feel more optimistic this week.

The way we develop  that truth is an interesting question, too.  The piece on sharesleuth brings up an old debate about people making money off of public goods–are they doing good if they’re doing it with a profit motive?  I’m of the opinion that if Cuban and Carey are reliable, accurate, and fair in their investigation, then it doesn’t matter if Cuban makes money off of the endeavor.  As Carey says,   “…in a world where investigative journalism is being abandoned because it is costly and risky, I think we’re doing a public service.”

As a student in the HGSE Technology, Innovation and Education program, we talk a lot about “new media literacy” in the sense that we must teach students the skills and knowledge needed to deepen learning through networked collaboration.  This is important, but I think we should also focus on teaching kids to understand their role in our fragmented media world.  If citizen journalism is one of the viable journalism models for the future, then we need to start teaching kids the importance of civic engagement in this context and how to be responsible citizen journalists.  We also need to teach kids to be discerning consumers of media.  The 1,000 True Fans piece provides good perspective on how we can define success in the digital age–we don’t need blockbuster sellouts, we just need 1,000 true fans.  At the  same time, the notion of “diehard fans” reminds me of a talk Ethan Zuckerman gave at Brown in 2008 warning about the dangers of homophily.  Growing up in Ohio, I knew a lot of diehard fans of Fox News.  Granted, you could be a diehard fan of news sources from many different political perspectives, but I think that’s a decision people have to make consciously–that is, we need to understand what we’re getting ourselves into.

“Which Blog Are You?” Take the quiz!

September 30, 2009

If I had time, energy, and an audience that appreciated class-related side projects, I would make a facebook personality quiz titled, “Which Technorati Top-100 Blog are You?” based on the information presented in Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything. The book convinces me that there’s a blog for everyone.  If what you’re looking for isn’t there, you can create one that fulfills this need.  Rosenberg paints this conclusion as the natural result of having an open forum where one can “say everything.”  Many of the blogging pioneers mentioned in the first two sections–Evan Williams and Justin Hall, to name a few–really did blog because they were driven to it.   One of my favorite quotations from the text goes, “Blogging began as a pursuit of amateurs, in the pure meaning of the word: people motivated by love” (166) because it fits so nicely with the stories (with the exception of “Blogging for Bucks”) Rosenberg tells.  The book convincingly describes early blogging as a labor of love, emphasis on the word labor.  

The real question for me, however, is how the blogging will fill the holes left behind by the demise of main-stream media.  Can we get people to cover state and regional governments pro bono?  Rosenberg’s rosy depiction of his beloved amateurs makes me feel like someday, some bloggers will decide to take charge on covering state and regional-level news, but feeling that way isn’t the same thing as having proof.  Even without bloggers, there might be a way to get around Clay Shirky‘s prediction that we will soon enter an age of unbridled state and regional corruption.  Perhaps the solution is in a public model.  For example, convering the statehouse was the kind of less-exciting field experience job I could have been assigned when I was an eager intern at WCBE, a public radio station in Columbus, Ohio.  Luckily for me, we got most of our statehouse news from the Ohio Public Radio’s Statehouse News Bureau which specialized in state-level news.  If it’s true that the NPR business model is one of the most sustainable (sidenote: when I was working in public radio, it never felt like anyone believed we were actually a viable model though that might just be journalistic cynicism), then perhaps there is a future for the state watchdog after all.  Part of me wonders if Shirky made his alarmist prediction about state and regional corruption to ensure that people would be willing to fund news organizations at that level.

A final thought: in “The Rise of Political Blogging”, Rosenberg asks “Why hadn’t the Washington press corps jumped on the Lott story in the first place?”   A series of hypothetical explanations follow the question, suggesting that the press chose not to break a major story out of a desire to maintain access with key sources or to not be distasteful since they were covering a birthday party.  I’m guessing that Chris Lydon would use this incident to justify the demise of mainstream media.  I do agree that traditional media failed on the Lott story, but I’m not fully convinced that the blogosphere can take over what the press corps was supposedly trying to protect, that is, future access tosources and  information. Crowd-sourced investigation certainly has proven it’s worth, and perhaps it will make up for the insider access that might die with traditional journalism.  Or am I wrong to assume that bloggers won’t have that access too?

Oh, China! (and the internet)

September 24, 2009
Pakistan, land of freedom?  Keep reading to find out more...

Pakistan, land of freedom? Keep reading to find out more... Photo by Matthew Reichel

In Chinese culture, there exists a notion that there is one correct way to do everything.    Its political structure follows strict hierarchy.  Its society values uniformity of thought (I would know–when I taught in a Taiwanese public school, it was my job to enforce this mass mentality).    The PRC government has done an effective job convincing the majority of its citizens that China is one country with 56 minorities–a kind of ethnic Disney world where everyone is part of one happy nation.   Ask your average Han Chinese what they think of Tibetan freedom, and they’ll tell you Tibet is part of China, end of story.   The idea that Tibet would want its sovereignty seems absurd to them.  As far as they’re concerned, the People’s Liberation Army saved the Tibetans from their “backwards” ways and brought them modernization and progress and the Tibetans are ungrateful for trying to bite the hand that feeds.

The things we celebrate about the internet–the ability to express our intent through search, the fact that we “have access to and can share ideas with the greatest minds of our time” and the diversity of information available at our fingertips–are the very aspects of our networked world that threaten the stability of Chinese political culture.  I like to think about the potential effect of the internet in China in terms of Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” graph, except the area under the curve is media power instead of revenue.  Xinhua news agency and CCTV, the media mouthpieces of the CCP, own the area under the head of the curve, while China’s netizens theoretically own the area under the tail.

China, however, has gone to great lengths to maintain their grip on media power and prevent Chinese citizens from taking their piece of the pie.   By September 1996, the Great Chinese Firewall already prevented Chinese internet users from accessing an estimated 100 websites.  In 2005 they required Google to comply with their internet censorship laws in order to launch http://www.google.cn.  But technology keeps changing and becoming more immediate and the Chinese government must continue adjusting their filtering services to keep up with the times.  The other day, my friend posted the following message on facebook:

Jonathan ‘Jono’ Warren Internet and international calls are blocked in Xinjiang, China. I never thought I’d say this, but I had to go to Pakistan to get some freedom. (I’m in Pakistan.)

September 18 at 5:37am · Comment ·

Jonathan 'Jono' Warren

Jonathan ‘Jono’ Warren Internet and international calls are blocked in Xinjiang, China. I never thought I’d say this, but I had to go to Pakistan to get some freedom. (I’m in Pakistan.)

September 18 at 5:37am · Comment ·