Archive for the ‘NMS’ Category

Politics, popularity, and personalization

June 22, 2008

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google\'s June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).

The AP drama

June 20, 2008

I just learned about a currently developing online drama.  Associated Press (AP) decided that they are going to charge bloggers and anyone who cites their content.  The tariff is $2.5 a word or $12.5 for five words.  Now, as I understand it, if I post here a title of AP’s article with a link to it, I will have to pay, and if i cite anything from their article and provide a link to it, i will still have to pay.

AP are explaning this move in copyright terms and are apparently threatening to sue some bloggers. Frankly, I am finding it really difficult to follow their logic.  If they don’t want people to cite and link to their content, why are they making it available online?  Either I am missing some huge point here, or peole at AP don’t understand the “rules of the game” they are into.

Another face of media concentration?

June 10, 2008

I am not sure if many of the readers know, but my Masters’ thesis was on media industries dynamics. One of my original motivations to start looking at media industries was vast literature on media economics, particularly media concentration/conglomeration, i was exposed to during my undergraduate and graduate studies. In a super-simplistic way and in a nutshell, the common concern regarding the dynamics of media industries is that as time goes on there are fewer hands controlling the growing number of media outlets. Of course the actual picture is more complex and i should probably blog about it (and my thesis?) at some point.

However, the point of this post is different. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the shrinking membership of the Entertainment Software Association – an association of video/computer games producers. The fact of intra-industrial battles was not as interesting as the mention of merger discussions between Activision (Guitar Hero) and Vivendy (WoW). This news comes in a span of just a few months from EA’s (The Sims) attempts to take over Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto). Are we moving towards

I find it really interesting and tied to the debate over mass media ownership at large. Ironically, being a huge and rather fast growing industry, video games industries are gaining less attention compared to the mainstream media. At the same time, i think the cultural function of video games can be legitimately compared to that of the popular culture. As video games become a more prominent outlet for leisure time we can start asking similar questions about this industry as we were asking about other culture-related industries.

I think the link above will become even more obvious as the two industries continue moving towards each other. For example, not too long ago I read about an attempt to create an interactive movie based on the popular WoW. The idea is that it would combine elements of the game and users’ input with cinematography and it is a clear step towards merging the two domains.

Probably the combination of the two developments – conglomeration of the video-games industries and amalgamation of cultural outlets – prompted me to think about the WP article in terms of another expression of media concentration. What do you think?

Limited “neweness” or lack of tact?

May 29, 2008

Thanks to Veronica, who mentioned this to me, i read the following debate (HE) about whether or not it would be appropriate to announce a funeral via FaceBook(FB). The primary argument is around whether or not it is tasteless or not to invite people to a funeral using “events” on FB. On its face it is a ridiculous question and my guts reaction was “hell no!”. But as it also go me thinking…

When somebody dies in Israel, the closest relatives and friends are usually receive a phone call, and more distant acquaintances and colleagues are getting the message through the grapevine or through institutional channels such as an organizational memo. Recently, i hear more people using SMS to announce the tragedy to wider publics. To a great extent, these practices are dictated by the Jewish tradition, which requires the body to be buried as soon as possible. In many cases this means that the funeral is taking place on the same day of the death or the following one, but rarely later than that.

One particularly interesting practice of announcing a funeral is using the media. Frequently people would publish an announcement in a newspaper about a death of a person, the time of the funeral, and the location of shiva. Another common practice is to place notification with the same information in public places, particularly in the area where the person lived.

These latter practices prompted me thinking about the FB case from a different angle. What is the principle difference between placing an ad in a newspaper and placing an announcement on FB? The popular claim is that alternative media and social networking platforms replace mainstream media outlets, particularly for the younger generation. If people consume political, economic, cultural, and other news through personalized feeds, why would it be wrong to announce a personal tragedy using the same medium? If we are to talk about the “new” media, why (or where) is this newness limited to the not serious stuff only? In a way, this may be even more humane compared to a newspaper ad, because you know that the message goes only to the people who cared to one degree or another about the passed away person.

What do you think?

Optimisitic numbers

May 16, 2008

Even though I didn’t make it to Telecom Africa, I couldn’t escape the African motive. Recently, I came across some optimistic numbers about adoption of ICT in the region. The ITU report, cited here, suggests that (a) there is currently more technology in Africa and (b) it is more evenly spread across the continent (the more interesting observation in my view). At the same time, it suggests that people in Africa find mobile more useful, compared to the internet, which is not surprising provided the price of internet access (the cite states a figure of $50 and that is a lot!). In fact, the mobile market is showing impressive growth in other developing countries, which makes it supposedly an interesting aim for foreign investors.

I wonder though, what is the impact of adoption of these technologies on the lives of people? Do they make their lives easier? Happier? More prosperous? How do they use it? How different these ways are from what we are used for? What business and technological innovation is taking place in this process?

Quite fascinating…

Old concerns 2.0

May 13, 2008

I blogged earlier about thoughts prompted by reading students’ papers in Tarleton’s COMM 320 course. In my previous posts I wrote about perception of social networks as a platform for unifying “digital culture”. Another common idea in numerous papers was that the “new” media offer an open platform where users can create any content they want, particularly in the political context. The “new” media are often discussed in comparison to the “old” media (newspapers, TV, etc.), which suffer from institutionalized bias and are constantly under political and economic pressures. The “new” media are different – they are open platforms and the “new” media companies do not intervene in discourse as long as it is within the limits of the law.

The questions however, is it so? Is it so black and white and are the differences between the “old” and the “new” so great?

I thought about this now because I ran into an interesting example on YouTube. A few days ago, i heard about Mike Gravel’s attempts to recruit Obama Girl for his campaign. For those of you who do not follow, Mike Gravel is still in the race for Democratic nomination to run for the presidency (yes, there are more candidates than just Clinton and Obama). In fact, Gravel’s campaign is a good example to support the “new” argument about the “new” media. He has been continuously marginalized in the mainstream media and as a result he is trying to rely more and more on the alternative channels such as YouTube.

Watching the video of Gravel dancing with Obama Girl, lead me to his YouTube channel, where i found the following video, where Gravel is complaining about YouTube now marginalizing him as well:

Indeed, i went and checked. If you look at the “You Choose” page on YouTube there is no doubt that there are only two candidates in the democratic camp. While i can understand that Gravel has no chances to win and thus it seems like a logical decision to keep the page cleaner for maybe aesthetic purposes, i cannot stop wonder about the questions this act rises about the neutrality of the platforms.

In this case we have YouTube priming certain political preferences on expanse of the others. They may not do it for political/ideological reasons, but the result is the same – the marginalized are pushed back to the margins. Of course there are differences and you can still find all Gravel’s videos on YouTube, but would you know that he is still running if you’d look at the main political page on YouTube these days?

I think this is an interesting case that is bringing back a series of concerns we had previously about the mainstream media. Moreover, it raises questions about the interaction between the mainstream media, “new” media, and perceived public opinion. I find it really interesting.

What do you think?

A note on clichés and online credibility

May 4, 2008

I read a post from “Technology Evangelist” (who in turn replied to Micro Persuasion, who in turn quotes Edelman Trust Barometer :) on how much people trust various sources of information ranging from “a person like yourself” through academics, employees, executives of companies, etc., to “blogger”. The result, unsurprisingly i think, is that people trust “a person like yourself” the most and “blogger” the least (i am pasting the graph below).

Ed Kohler offers a few points of criticism about the way the categories are labeled in this question and i tend to agree. Moreover, it got me thinking how often we tend to place issues in well defined conceptual bins. “Blogger” in this case is some esoteric creature on the internet, which is probably far from being truth for many of the regular blog readers. I wonder how does this trust question correlate with blog-reading patterns or more generally with media consumption patterns.

Regardless, I think one interesting thing in this graph is how the general trends of trust fluctuate in time. Note that while the absolute values vary among the different categories, the general trend is the same. Interesting.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2008

On social networks and shared culture

April 25, 2008

I recently finished grading a lot of papers on the topic of “new” media and culture for Tarleton’s COMM 320 class. Our students had to react to the following statement using the class readings:

Digital media technologies tend to individualize us, to make us feel more separate; digital culture (i.e. the kinds of content those technologies give us access to and the cultural meanings that content regularly offers) tend to connect us, to make us feel more a part of something.

One of the prominent examples to how the “digital culture tend to connect us” was the social networks websites. This is probably why the following post caught my eye. It summaries results of social media study from Universal McCann, which shows major differences between the US and Asian countries in terms of online social networking. It seems that people in different parts of the world tend to join different social networks, which actually makes perfect sense, but undermines that globally-unifying factor that many of our students highlighted (also note the white spaces on the map). It also shows that even in the US itself there is not homogeneity in these environment. In fact, Eszter had a paper showing, among other things, that different ethnic groups in the US tend to join different social networking website.

It could be interesting to look at the complete report since it also suggest differences in patterns of grassroots content production in various regions of the world. I think when talking about “new” media and “digital” culture, it s very important to put things in context (and that is one of the ideas in my eyes behind thinking macro :). I wonder though what would be the best way to incorporate that in teaching.

Facebook and surveillance

April 8, 2008

Another post that spent a while in my drafts. I wrote it after Syria blocked FB and i got in a short conversation with bloggers on Mideast Youth.

One of the commenters stated that “there is no doubt that these socialisation sites like Facebook, Orkut, Hi5, Xuga, etc and even Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail and all others are connected to CIA, and CIA feeds MOSSAD when necessary”. That sparked a conversation about the degree of involvement of the intelligence agencies in monitoring the web in general and particularly FB. My interaction was actually with Tamara, with whom i think we agree and the discussion was mainly on semantics. I think my problem was primarily with an idea of CIA, or any other intelligence agency, actually being directly linked to something like FB and monitoring what is going on in there. From my point of view, that would be crossing a few red lines unacceptable “even” in the post 9/11 reality (as if to support my thoughts Washington Post published this article). In other words, assuming CIA having a pipe plugged into FB servers is going a little bit too far.

Interestingly, just a few days after that discussion, i bumped into a Newsweek article about a mysterious murder in Italy. One of the prominent points in that article is the use Italian police made of the Web in order to track the suspects. They did check out suspects’ FB profiles, their recent Google searches, and used Skype to reach one of the other suspects. However, linking this back to the CIA-Syria discussion, i think this articles makes an interesting point. It seems like when they need it, the security forces are capable of gaining the information from social networking websites and more. The articles of course does not explain how exactly they gained that access, but i don’t think it implies that there is a constant surveillance of these public spaces. Actually it seems to me that it makes quite an opposite point and in this sense the new media are no different from the more veteran technologies (phone, TV, or library for that matter).

Also, as I was reading that, i couldn’t help but think about the degree of exposure people are reaching online these days. And it is not that they were forced into it, or had actually to exchange something about themselves in return for a product or service. FB in fact does not have any content or even a product. All it provides is a platform, but the choice what to put on this platform is totally in the hands of the users. This leads me to thinking about the changing awareness and perception of privacy among the youth. What is going on there?

Online activism week

March 27, 2008

Updated: March 28, 2008

CyberRightsIt seems to me that this week can be easily titled as the online activism week.

Online deliberative spaces continue gaining further recognition in the global political discourse. In Europe, the blogosphere is gaining weight as an innovative political voice. In the States there is a rather creative “battle” unfolding between raining McCains, quite arrogant ObamaGirls, and others. However, all it pales compared to the last week developments surrounding the violence in Tibet.

A recent post from a blog tracking Alexa shows that jumped into the top three online “movers and shakers” this week. Avaaz is a civil rights organization with a “simple” aim “to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want.” The peak in traffic came as a result of them winning a YouTube contest in the political video category. However I got exposed to their name a few days earlier when the blogosphere got practically swamped with calls to support an Avaaz-led petition to end the violence in Tibet.

All this is taking place on the background of Chinese government issuing rules that shut down “unfriendly” online video websites and blocking YouTube and Yahoo for their coverage of Tibet. Similar action was taken by Burmese government during the violence that took place last year.  This time, however, i also see some grassroots anti-Tibet expressions as well.  Here is a link to a video that I got through the international mailing list here at Cornell.

These and other instances suggest that grassroots reporting from conflict zones matters and potentially has some impacts. However whether or not the ability of online activist to raise public awareness can be translated into tangible action, especially in these situations, remains an open question in my mind.