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Weekly Post # 11: 2012 Presidential Elections- Another Campaigning Revolution?

We all witnessed how President Obama revolutionized the way that  presidential campaigns are held and will be held using technology and community efforts. This historical campaign has been a subject of discussion and analysis until today and has raised the bar in terms of the way the next elections will be held. Public engagement powered by the evolution of digital technology have brought Mr.Obama way ahead of other candidates and changed the election campaign landscape forever.

It not only fundamentally changed the logistics of a political campaign, but also formulated key principles that we will never forget. For me the most powerful one is that “crowds and communities have an immense power if given the tools to use it” – a concept  so extensively discussed during the course of my Social Media class and one of the most important ones that I will try to apply during my future career as a communication’s professional.  Never would he’ve been able to organize such large numbers of supporters without giving them the opportunity to organize and support themselves, energizing them and giving them the power and authority to contribute.

During the semester we read the book “The Long Tail ” by Clay Shirky. In it he mentions that the 3 key elements for a successful online campaign are: democratized production, democratized distribution, and connection between supply and demand.

Undoubtedly, Obama had them all. He used the democratized tools, his website, mobile phones, the existing social networking software. He used the democratized distribution, be it social networks, mobile, video or emails.  And finally he connected supply (used existing networks) and demand (people’s willingness to be involved).  Obama directed crowdsourcing –  he gave opportunities to large masses to contribute.

It is hard to predict what the next elections will look like. If we try to predict them, we need to predict technology and the developers’ genius minds are hard to guess.  The volunteer organization and empowerment will likely be times more sophisticated. I can imagine Obama’s opponents opening up and adopting this model of community energizing and engagement.

Two years from now is a long time. The Moore’s Law states that in two years the technology advances twice as much and becomes twice cheaper. So just to give you an example – in two years the IPad will be totally outdated and be replace by a two times more sophisticated and half cheaper device. What other platforms will be out there is hard to guess. But I think that no matter what they are, the core concept of community engagement and collective action will never get old and will be the driving force of the 2012 presidential elections as well, the way it is increasingly being adopted by the business world as well.

Another trend that we might possible see is Clay Shirky’s Long Tail. During the last elections Obama’s camping has overseen more than a hundred different websites.  I think that during the next elections he might go after even more niche audiences, no matter how small they are, and double the sites he oversees. I see his campaign reaching out to niche communities providing them with even more interactive tools to collaborate such as different apps and widgets.

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Weekly Blog #10: Wartalks – a necessary or unnecessary truth?

We read news titles such as this one – “A roadside bomb killed yesterday X civilians and Z soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan” – almost on a daily basis. Yes, the violence and the number of lost lives are striking. But we read about this so often, that at some point this news becomes something usual and impersonal. We are disconnected from the reality and complications of a war conflict, either by voluntarily choosing to not think deeper about the intricacy of the issue, or by not being exposed to all of its aspects.  But we should know more – soldiers’ participation in a war is an impressive act and deserves more attention. They and their emotions are the human face of the bitter war reality which is much more obscured than, for example, its political face. The Web 2.0 serves the purpose of unveiling that reality. The fast-pace advancing digital revolution has provided those directly and indirectly connected with the war with a venue to express their opinions, ideology, and feelings. It has provided many soldiers with a way to talk about their extended period of service.

The internet has also turned into a medium for us to gather news reports, images and videos, especially since the start of the 2003 war in Iraq, of what it is like to be on the ground. According to a study conducted in 2003 by “77% of online Americans have used the Internet in connection with the war” since the 2003 Iraq War.

I know that some of you will ask: Do we need to be exposed to so much violence? We are exposed to it enough by the news outlets and by many of the movies we produce. I agree. But I also realize how important citizens’ and soldiers’ voices are in a time of a war, and how important it is for all these reports to be out there and available to the public.

As Alex Horton, the author of the Army of Dude, reveals in one of his last posts before going back home  “the intention of this blog from day one was to chronicle my experiences in a way for people to understand and interpret what was going on beyond what was being filtered, distilled and spat out of the mainstream media.”

Warblogging and other forms of citizen journalism in a time of war allows us to change our misconceptions and disinformation about what it takes to be on the front lines. In addition,  it can serve an educational tool for future generations to understand  war and its savagery.

This video is a short confession of a US soldier in Iraq who pictured and videotaped everything from his first to his last day of service. The material was later used for the production of the documentary “My War Diary” .He explains that he did it not  only for his fellow soldiers, but also for their families  – to know that “this is the truth and what happened over there.”

On the other hand, warblogging also allows the ones living in war conditions , the locals, to be heard. I read both Salem Pax’s blog, as well as Bagdad Burning , which illustrate the hardship of war on the local people, their perspectives and differences.This is how one of Bagdad’s Burning blod posts starts: “It takes a lot to get the energy and resolution to blog lately. I guess it’s mainly because just thinking about the state of Iraq leaves me drained and depressed. But I had to write tonight”. Warblogs not only describe war, but also touch upon other socio-economic and cultural issues.

In all instances, it is our right to be exposed to different perspectives which overcome the limitations of traditional media, as it is people’s right to raise their voices no matter of their role or position on the war. War is heartbreaking, and its brutality should not be hidden.

Response Blog # 3: Sustainability: A Matter of Perception

I kept reading Anna Pollock’s posts and I wanted to share an interesting story that one of them told. It’s a true story and it happened last winter in Washington DC. Perhaps it is quite well-known, but I just found out about it and was quite amased. It is a story about a street musician (well, at least for an hour) and the power of perception.

The blog describes how on a cold winter morning a street musician played his violin at one of the Washington DC metro stations. It was a morning rush hour – people were on their way to work. The musician played 6 pieces by Bach for about 45 minutes. By the time he finished only 6 people had stopped to listen for a short while, the other 20 had only a dollar or two without stopping.

This musician happened to be Joshua Bell, one of the world’s best musicians who played a violin worth 3.5 million dollars and whose concert tickets were for an average of $100.00.

I was stunned by this social experiment about perception and people’s priorities. It is interesting to see how people’s recognition of this man was completely different with the existing circumstances – a metro station and a morning rush hour – than it would be in the concert hall.

This, I think, is an example o f how we tend to miss and leave beauty unrecognized when it is delivered in an unexpected context. It is also interesting to see how we determine value depending on the circumstances. We would value Bell’s talent a thousand times more if the place and time suggested it. But we tend to miss so many little things that could bring us joy in our daily lives, our minds engaged with other priorities and daily tasks.

Behavior change is about changing perceptions, and it was interesting to read how Pollock applied perception to sustainable tourism. She said “Until we are prepared to slow down, stop and drink in the magical tones of Joshua Bell’s violin when the music emerges unexpectedly from the pavement of an underpass on a drizzly November day, we will continue to gallop towards sustainability and it will recede further to the horizon. Until we have switched our perception of earth as lumberyard or ever giving ATM machine to earth as our sacred home that nurtures us; until we have mastered Wonder 101 and can articulate how a place pulses to its own unique beat; until we can feel “her”, the rest is pointless… “

I completely agree with her, until we change our perception about the Earth and stop thinking that these natural resources are self-recovering, we will not achieve much. This is quite of a challenge. I hope we don’t wait until the circumstances change.

Response Blog 2: “On Homecoming and Wayfinding – Re-thinking Sustainable Tourism”

In her blog “On Homecoming and Wayfinding – Re-thinking Sustainable Tourism” Anna Pollock introduces the “Art of Wayfinding”, an idea which originated back during the times of  early Polynesian development, and how it can be applied by indigenous societies in order for them to preserve their unique settings and practice sustainable tourism .

Pollock talks about her “love-hate” relationship with tourism. The “love” side is easier to guess. The “hate” side is related to mass tourism and how it destroys valuable natural recourses, wipes out the cultural identities of unique destinations and becomes a reflection of pure commercialism.  Yes, tourism is a commercial industry but it can be developed and practiced in a way that does not harm the natural settings of the local communities.

She also mentions the “sickening” feeling she experienced when she visited the island of Bali after 16 years. The “sacredness” of the island had disappeared under the pressure of big investments and shiny resorts, gradually continuing to erase every sign of the Balinese culture and distinctiveness.

Unfortunately, this is the case with many other destinations where tourism the main source of income. Bulgaria, where I am originally from, is not an exception. I get the same sickening feeling when I think about, for example the Black Sea coast which is now teeming with large-scale developments and luxury hotels being built on previously existing greens areas, acres of marshlands have been destroyed. Almost every house is a hotel. And if there is no house, it is being built to become a hotel.

No wonder that the holiday season there has shrunk resulting in less revenues and lowering standards for hiring employees. No wonder that this landscape is turning tourists away. It makes me sad that nobody seems to care in a country, otherwise abundant in natural, historic, and architectural resources which could be promoted and exploited wisely.

What is the “Art of Wayfinding” and how can it be applied to promote sustainable tourism?

Just like Anna Pollock, I became very intrigued by the idea, and the skill of Polynesians to sail vast distances against the prevailing winds and find their ways with no navigational instruments. They learned how to read the sky, stars, currents, clouds and behavior of marine life to determine their position and direction. The “wayfinding” evolved into a metaphor, representing a way of thinking and how it can help each one of us and our communities to navigate throughout the duration our lives:

“You only know where you are by knowing precisely where you have been and how you got to where you are. One’s position at any one time is determined solely on the basis of distance and direction traveled since leaving the last known point. You don’t look up at the stars and know where you are, you need to know where you have come from by memorizing from where you have sailed. And, just as importantly, you need to see your destination clearly in your mind, if you ever wish to find it in an ocean as vast as the Pacific.”

A very powerful idea! In tourism it can be materialized if people found their way of developing new ways of practicing tourism, by having a clear idea of who they are, what  their values are and what they want tourists to value them for. This is sustainable tourism.

I wish I could tell whoever is responsible for this endless construction of the Black Sea coast  “Wake up! They don’t want to see your hotels and luxury. They want to see your way of life and your culture, they want to know you.”

On another hand, the idea of “wayfinding” made me think about how sometimes we think that we  haven’t achieved anything. And  it’s because we only look at the present without having a starting point. Now when I look back, for example two years ago, I realize the distance I have traveled, although sometimes it feels that I have gotten nowhere.

Weekly Blog # 8 Wikipedia: Can we trust it when it comes to..

It is not a secret  for  anyone that Twitter has surpassed mainstream media as the place for discovering breaking news. But I was surprised when I heard during one of my classes in Social Media that Wikipedia, just like Twitter, has also been used by many as a primary source of breaking news.

For example, I looked at the article about the 2005 London bombings. It was pretty impressive that it had taken minutes after the event for a volunteer to start a page on the events. Many others followed suit shortly afterwords. For the next 24 hours, more than 70 people have reported on the event and it had the most comprehensive user-generated coverage available out there, one that a traditional media outlet could not possibly prepare for the same amount of time.

There are only so many places a reporter can be and so many people he can talk to. This example makes me realize the real power of crowdsourcing and collaborative action. As I expresses in my last post, to me the process of creating a page on Wikipedia resembles a  group of people playing with a puzzle, and putting together pieces of information from various locations in one place. Same thing with breaking news on Wikipedia. It’s also impressive that when somebody puts a piece of the puzzle on the wrong place, it is immediately corrected by another group member.   Intentionally or not, mistakes are made in any given entry, but they are immediately caught and repaired by others. This is especially true when it comes to events unfolding in real time when there are so many eyes on that particular entry.

The entries on so many other breaking news events prove this point, the last one being the bombings on the Moscow Metro a few days ago. On the day of the attacks more the page has been edited more than 250 times.

The speed with which articles on breaking news are created and developed is absolutely astonishing. I was also surprised to hear that there is a group of people, devoted so much to creating Wikipedia content, that probably at the moment big news breaks, they stop whatever they’re doing to start a project and maintain its quality, by that I mostly mean cases of vandalism and filtering of all the opinion out.

Traditional media also gets things wrong sometimes, but somehow it is more accepted when they do that than a Wikipedia page. We are more inclined to trust traditional media and blogs, rather than a carefully tailored Wikipedia article. This post, gives more reasons why we should trust Wikipedia.

Google’s vice president Marissa Mayer in her testimony to Congress in May, 2009 on the future of  journalism, argues that:

Today, in online news, publishers frequently publish several articles on the same topic, sometimes with identical or closely related content, each at their own URL. The result is parallel Web pages that compete against each other in terms of authority, and in terms of placement in links and search results.

Consider instead how the authoritativeness of news articles might grow if an evolving story were published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity. We see this practice today in Wikipedia’s entries and in the topic pages at NYTimes.com. The result is a single authoritative page with a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time.”

Having all the above in consideration, my previous position that Wikipedia can be a trusted source of information, has only been reaffirmed. Of course, one always has to leave a place for some doubt whatever he the source is, but I can just say that I will also head to Wikipedia next time when important news breaks.

Weekly Blog # 7: Who cares if an article on asphalt exists? Cdani does (Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody)

I will start with a quote by Jimmy Whales, the founder of Wikipedia, during a 2005 TED talk: “:The type of people who were drawn to write an encyclopedia for fun, tend to be some smart people” which in my opinion answers the question if we should trust Wikipedia.

Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has become one of the top 10 used websites, the content of which is viewed and enjoyed by all of us. It’s radical idea of collaboration, of course, is surrounded by lots of controversy. The most common questions asked is: Can we trust it and how much? Does it represent truth or truthiness?

Up to date, there is no philosophical agreement on what exactly constitutes truth and there are multiple theories that examine the concept. In this case, the most common concern is based on the assumption that “truth” in Wikipedia can be just a matter of personal opinion? And personal opinion and views do not determine reality. Therefore, the truth is Wikipedia is questionable.

In that note, I liked the comparison that Jimmy Whales and another classmate make with blogging. Blogs in comparison to journalism do not report, but represent the truth in subjective ways, through the eyes of the writer. Does this mean that we should not trust them at all?

I agree that we should not blindly trust Wikipedia’s entirely user-generated content, like in the case with John Seigenthaler, however we should not make extreme conclusions that it is not a reliable source of information. This study shows that Britanica and Wikipedia are almost equal in accuracy. After all, if Wikipedia was not volunteer-generated, it would not exist and serve us a as such a quick and convenient way of reference; Nupedia did not survive.

The other question that I think links to truthfulness, and what Jimmy Whales explains to control the quality and accuracy of information, is Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy which volunteers respect and stick to. It they do not, their edits will be deleted. It is the social concept of cooperation and impartiality that drives people to create content and put together the little pieces of an endless puzzle, which I find to be a very fascinating phenomenon. This is how it maintains objectivity. Not to mention the fact that the handful of people who constantly create and maintain Wikipedia’s content are experts in their own areas.

The idea of collaboration, brings me back to Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody” and the question he asks in it: “ Who cares if there is an article on asphalt? Cdani does” . The idea is that as long as there are people who care about a certain article, they will maintain its accuracy and protect it from vandalism, sticking to the idea of neutrality. Of course vandalism exists, but it does not last long due to Wikipedia’s self-healing nature.

This movie,  called “The Truth about Wikipedia” by dutch filmmaker, IJsbrand van Veelen, represents a different point of view which denies the trustworthiness of Wikipedia and argues that there should be gatekeepers of the truth.

Contraversy will always exist. I myself, do not trust Wikipedia entirely, but it is the source of information that is always handy and gives me knowledge on every single topic that I gave searched so far. For a deeper research however, of course, it will not be my primary source.

Weekly Blog # 6: Gaming – Now and Then

As part my Social Media Class, we were instructed to explore a popular game and share our experiences afterwards. I must admit that this is one of the most entertaining homeworks I have ever done. I mentioned briefly to a couple of friends about my assignment and not surprisingly the response I received was  “What? You need to play a game for homework ?” ,  not knowing of course the deeper meaning and purpose of gaming  which is something I didn’t know earlier myself.  I have never been into games, except when I was really young, and I used to play some of the first games on one of the first computers which were  quite wide-spread in my country and Eastern Europe at the time. They were called Pravetz, the most popular being Pravetz Series 8, Bulgarian-made clones of Apple 2 series which were produced in the town of Pravetz , located not too far from the capital, Sofia, where I grew up.  A bit out of the topic, but I wanted to share where my gaming experience started.  Below are a couple of photos of these ancient computers , which were however very popular back in the days in Eastern Europe and some Arab countries where they were exported. The first one is of the Pravetz 8 and the second of its Pravetz 16.

                                 

And in case you get curious  about this you can visit the Pravetz virtual museum, which is exactly where they belong to. Anyway, one of these computers I used to play one of the first versions of  Super Mario and Moon Patrol.  Digger and Tetris were also some of my favorite ones. Since then there was a very long gap before I played again.

Back in 2010 I am about to rediscover the world of gaming which has certainly evolved so much that it would even exceed my imagination.  I started with Second Life.  A few easy steps for a free account and here I am – Ms. Fingerpin. I am now “in world”. There is so much to learn and explore out there, like I said it’s hard to even imagine, but let’s start with the basics – customizing my avatar.  I watched video tutorials on how exactly to do this so it was quite easy and enjoyable.  I could’ also go shopping for hip clothing, which I skipped as I didn’t have any L$ or Linden Dollars, the currency used in the Second Life world. But if I did ,  the place to do so would be XStreet which is basically the  marketplace.  Then I went to the destination guide where I had to choose a destination for my avatar to wander.

Alice in Wonderland being one of my favorite fairy tales and also with the recent release of Tim Burton’s movie , I decided to take a journey into Lewis Carol’s world. The design was absolutely amazing! You hop on a gondola and dive into Alice’s world.  The gondola itself out as a black and white checked car and changes colors as you ride. The seats are made of playing cards. First you get to ride by the Mad Hatter’s Tea party. Then you pass by the Queen of Hearts and her king. The floor resembles a chess board. Of course , you also encounter well known heroes such as the White Rabbit and Humpty Dumpty … I  spent more time here than I had planned to.

 I had a very fun time and I can certainly understand how it can get addictive. But I also know that besides for fun games serve much more serious purposes, not only for advertising, but also for social causes.  Here is a speech by Jane McGonigal, a game designer, on TED 2010 and how she believes games can make the world a better place. What do you think?