Archive for the 'Web 2.0' Category


I’m Not a Social Outcast, Dammit!

Ian Sohn over on Ogilvy’s blog answers a question that all of us social media nerds constantly get: Where do you find the time to do that?

That’s the question I often get when I talk to people about my participation in online social media. Where DO you find the time to update your Twitter stream? Where DO you find the time to upload photos to FaceBook? Where Do you find the time to read all those blogs?

The question is inevitably asked with a tone that implies I am either a total social misfit, ignore my family or slack off at work (or D: all of the above).
My initial reaction usually takes a defensive tone – where do YOU find the time to sit on the couch and stare at the TV for 3 hours a night?

Read his whole post here.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.


War Post: Internet Reporting from the Front Lines

I’d be remiss in writing about war blogging without mentioning an item brought up by TalkingPointsMemo blogger John Marshall yesterday.  In his post titled “Did He Really Just Do That?,”  Marshall points out that by suggesting that Barack Obama may be visiting Iraq over the weekend, John McCain could be putting the candidate’s security in danger.  Of course, while Marshall’s post is insightful and interesting, the story only entered the blogosphere after a MSM outlet (in this case Reuters) first reported and posted the story online.

What about folks who are doing their own citizen reporting from the front lines of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  People like self-proclaimed “Solo Journalist” Kevin Sites who left a MSM outlet to do his own his own bottom-up reporting for Yahoo news with nothing else but a backpack full of digital equipment?  Clearly, these courageous citizen reporters (and soldiers) are permanently changing the nature of war coverage in ways not seen since Vietnam.

Why they’re doing this is obvious.  Here’s what Sites said regarding his decision to leave a MSM to become a citizen journalist:

“The Internet has incredible power itself,” Sites said. “I went to working for a network that had about 10 million viewers a night on a very good night, ‘Nightly News With Brian Williams,’ and now I have the potential of reaching 400 million people every month. And it’s transnational.

“You know, my audience comes from everywhere in the world, and it also transcends boundaries by age, by country, by gender. The impact that I can have using the Internet and using the multimedia platform could be huge.”

I’m struck by how the arrival of the Internet has created such a contrast in American perception of our two wars in the Middle East.  Although I was only about 13 at the time, I vividly remember seeing General Norman Schwarzkopf on TV releasing incredible images of smart bombs decimating Iraqi targets during the first Gulf War. Without the benefit of widespread use of the Internet and access and bottom-up blog reporting from the front lines, all the world had in 1991 were the clinical and optimistic images the top brass at the Pentagon chose to give us.

Today, things are radically different.  The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, online self-publishing tools, and other networked and miniaturized technologies have removed the filters of control over what we see.  Eighteen years ago, would the world have been exposed to the terrible images of torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib?  Would we have seen the graphic video of Sadaam Hussein being hanged (in this case taken via cell phone camera)?  And what about this video I found of U.S. soldier being saved by the bulletproof glass on his Humvee or this amazing soldier-generated story?  These are all hardly the kinds of things you’d see Generals showing at made-for-TV press conferences. Yet, they’re all things we need to see to form informed decisions about U.S. involvement abroad.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic more, visit this list of the “best war blogs” compiled by Forbes.

UPDATE: Just ran across MajorMan’s blog post on military blogging.  He’s got some great stuff on there on how the military is embracing social media, with links to their use of Twitter and Flickr for outreach.


Quick Web Roundup

A couple interesting items I’ve come across on the Internets the past few days:

  • Check out how a blogger created a stir with a simple little trip to Murky Coffee in Arlington.  Want to trace how Web 2.0 made this a big deal?  Start your journey with the Catch Up Lady’s take and end  with today’s Washington Post coverage.  Avoid getting dick punched on the way.  (Update: A friend sent me a link to the t-shirt)
  • Don Reisinger over at CNet shows us how YouTube is turning things around by making deals with the big guys.
  • Do you suffer from Google privacy paranoia?  If so, you might be interested in finding out how these places managed to get blurred out on Google Maps.
  • Finally, Anthony Boudain visits Colombia and comes back with fantastic things to say about the homeland.   You can watch a saliva-inducing segment from his food show here:

WikiScanner Report: Amnesty for Amnesty?

There was a whole lot of outrage a year or two ago when it was discovered that staffers on Capitol Hill had been anonymously making edits to the Wikipedia pages of their Members of Congress.

Shortly after this was uncovered, Wired Magazine took it upon itself to see what kind of “evil” corporations were trying to get away with the same thing.  Turns out, Diebold (the folks who make voting machines) and Wal-Mart (a company which according to some runs entirely off of the blood of the American working class) had been making anonymous edits to their entries as well.  Shocking!

Well, it looks like two groups everyone loves to hate – politicians and “evil” corporations – have already been nailed for making anonymous edits to their own Wikipedia pages, so I’ve decided to put some effort into looking at the NGO community to see if anything interesting is going on there.  It’s only fair, right?

Well there’s some really juicy stuff out there.  Particularly of interest to me were edits that Amnesty International – the renowned global human rights organization – has made to its own page.  Here’s what WikiScanner allowed me to uncover:

  • In February of 2006, an IP address linked to Amnesty completely deleted an entire section of their page devoted to “Articles Critical of AI.”  In total, eleven reports linked to sources were removed, including some that raised criticism that Amnesty has an Anti-American/Israeli bias and that the organization is “selective” in how it defends human rights.
  • That same day, Amnesty also completely deleted multiple sections on its page regarding Criticism and Rebuttal, Ideological Bias, and Selection Bias. Amnesty also wholly deleted sourced examples of their alleged bias in the article.
  • Under the pretext of adding “balance,” an anonymous contributor from Amnesty added content in a section called “Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our times.” that cited a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer defending Amnesty International and alluding to comparisons between prisoner abuses at Guantanamo Bay and the Soviet gulag prison system.
  • Amnesty also made several anonymous contributions to their talk page.  Some disclosed that the poster worked for Amnesty.  Most did not.
  • Finally, Amnesty also used Wikipedia to anonymously promote their campaigns on the online encyclopedia.  For example, they spent a lot of time editing on the “Make Some Noise” page – an article that describes an Amnesty campaign that used record artists to promote their human rights agenda.   (For example, they added the following to the page: “A fundraising album is scheduled to be released in June 2007, with exclusive new tracks from the likes of [[Christina Aguilera]] or [[Green Day]], to highlight the need to solve the crisis in Darfur.”)

Unfortunately, this is appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.  In addition to making edits to their own page, Amnesty has also made changes to the following Wikipedia pages:

  • “Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp”
  • “Extraordinary Rendition” (in which the person making the edit added what I think is a weasel word to the entry)
  • “Rendition Aircraft” (Here, the editor added a link to an Amnesty report critical of rendition)
  • “Anarchist communism” (Yikes)

I respect Amnesty.  Generally, they do great work.  But for an organization that spends such a large amount of time and effort criticizing human rights violators, it doesn’t seem like they’re able handle criticism of themselves all that well.  In many of these edits, Amnesty would have been able to make a convincing case in the discussion pages for removing certain content because it did not meet Wikipedia’s reliable sourcing, NPOV, notabilty, etc guidelines.  However, by unilaterally removing large chucks, hiding behind a wall of anonymity, and ignoring the discussion page, they violated the spirit of Wikipedia.

One of the greatest things about online collaboration is that ANYONE can contribute content.  Should Amnesty, Congressional staffers, and corporate employees be allowed to participate?  Absolutely.  After all, often, these are people who might know the most about certain topics and subjects (even though they may be biased).  But if we want a system that’s transparent and accountable, these users should disclose who they are and where they work.  After they post, I trust the wisdom of the crowds to balance out any bias that arises.


Is Second Life for People Who Have No First Life?

Using Second Life has been quite an adventure.  Like MajorMan, I was accosted by a virtual stranger almost immediately after joining up and teleporting into the synthetic world.  It was quite amusing, actually.  An avatar with a huge rainbow Mohawk and a leather cowboy outfit walked up to my avatar as I was learning to walk, fly, and look around.  Suddenly, the chorus from “Save a Horse Ride A Cowboy” began blaring through my computer speakers and I was propositioned to participate in lewd acts.

Welcome to the Wild West.

Despite this rather obscene welcome into the world of virtual gaming, I have to say that I have enjoyed my experiences “in world.”  As I played with the search function and began to teleport to different islands I began to understand what all the Second Life hype was all about.  There were many people I could “talk” to in Second Life, many of which were from foreign nations.  I visited Estonia’s virtual embassy (although no one was there).  I visited the Creative Commons area (where I got a free virtual t-shirt). I even got lost in what appeared to be an almost identical, synthetic version of Amsterdam.

As I read up on Second Life, I was intrigued by how Linden Labs have made the platform so open to its users.  Not only do individuals create most of the content on Second Life, but according to their copyright agreement these individuals also have rights to the intellectual property they create in-world. The openness in which Linden Lab has fostered appears to be behind much of the success of the platform.  By giving users to have an incentive to participate and tinker, more people tend to join up.   However, is Second Life too open?

When CNET tried to interview Anshe Chung, (the millionaire whose avatar graced the cover of the Business Week story we read) her in-world interview was ruined after some Second Lifers decided to take over the program. Just as the interview began, hackers arranged for a parade of flying, um….obscene images to fly around on stage. (You can watch the incident here, NSFW).  This isn’t an isolated incident.  John Edward’s Second Life campaign headquarters was also vandalized shortly after being opened online.

There’s no question that the amazing abilities of these online games will ensure that they’ll remain big money makers.  Also, as we’ve seen with the Wii, it’s clear that the gaming industry will continue attract new mainstream audiences to the gaming world. However, can virtual worlds like Second Life continue to succeed without imposing more controls to prevent anarchy?  I suppose only time will tell.

Finally, another great clip from The Office:


Follow up on Wikipedia Post

Looks like the Encyclopedia Britannica is going to adopt a wiki model for their online content.

Props to them for trying to adapt to the realities of the digital age.  It’s too bad it’ll suck compared to Wikipedia.  There’s no community there.

To little, too late fellas.


The Neutrality of this Blog Post is Disputed

Question: 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”?

It’s really hard for me to do any serious thinking about Wikipedia without being reminded of something Michael Scott from The Office said about the online encyclopedia:

As the “new media guy” at my office, I sometimes get made fun of for my advocacy of Wikipedia.  Often, as I try to extol the quality of information that emerges from online collaboration, I realize that I must come across just like Michael Scott does in that clip.

I suppose the good news is that after reading Clay Shirky’s Here comes Everybody, I now feel much better prepared to explain exactly why WIkipedia can be as trustworthy a source of information as any expert-led encyclopedia. The primary reason for Wikipedia’s quality is this:  When new social tools succeed in fostering robust communities of people who care, all of us is as good – or better- as only some of us (even if those “some” are experts).

But why exactly does this work?  Why are legions of Internet-connected people motivated to contribute information for no absolutely nothing in return?   Shriky gives us three reasons:

  1. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there that enjoy exercising some of their “unused mental capacities.” (Just like Shirky did with the “Koch Snowflake” entry.)
  2. Vanity.  Many Wikipedia contributors are driven by the satisfaction of knowing that they’re contributing to an important source of the world’s knowledge.
  3. People often just want to do a “good thing.”

And that’s exactly why Wikipedia should continue to be open to everybody.  Not only does the Wikipedia community work to create quality information through productive collaboration, but it’s also much more up to date and diverse than what you’ll find in any traditional encyclopedia.  Wikipedia has a whole page on TOAST, for crying out loud.  Try finding something like that in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

While I’ll continue to be an advocate for Wikipedia, it doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the the platform’s faults.  The system isn’t perfect.  I’ll never forget the day my friend sent me the URL to Wikipedia’s “Iceland” page, only to see that some vandal had deleted the page and replaced it with the words, “ICELAND GOT OWNED BY GREENLAND MOTHERFUCKERS!”  However, as Shirky explains, one of the reasons Wikipedia isn’t destroyed by the few that break the rules is that it’s much easier to erase vandalism than it is to create it, and most often, erroneous or ridiculous information gets fixed by the community very quickly.

I’ll end my post by offering just one piece of advice to the Wikipedia Gods on how they can improve the fairness and accuracy of their product even more.  As Chris Wilson noted in Slate , Wikipedia and other social media sites like Digg aren’t truly democratic.  Instead, on those sites, “A small segment of highly active [Wikipedia] users author the majority of the site’s content”

That’s more oligarchial than it is democratic.  And I’d be willing to bet that many of these users are also the same libertarian-leaning fanatics that often seek to skew the bias of certain articles on controversial topics.  (It’s no coincidence that Ron Paul’s Wikipedia page is longer than Mitt Romney’s, and almost as long at Barack Obama’s).

If Wikipedia is serious about maintaining their credibility, they should encourage more mainstream Internet users to contribute.  This would even out participation a bit more and allow for a more robust marketplace of viewpoints to inform the articles that are written.