Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beijing Olympic Dreams - Going Down in a Blaze of Glory?

This morning I read three more articles about San Francisco's hotly-contested decision to allow the 2008 Olympic torch to be toured through The City.

At their most benign, the complaints regard the recent decision by a sub-committee of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors to reject language that would have condemned China for its human rights abuses - particularly in Tibet.

Two out of the three Supervisors on the sub-committee voted against the resolution - preventing it from being considered by the full Board.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom - who supported the sub-committee's decision - stated “If folks want to beat up China, beat up China but don’t beat up the spirit of the Olympics.”

While I agree with the Mayor's words, I don't believe that they encapsulate the question at hand. As the only American city to host the Olympic torch, San Francisco is in a unique position to at least express its concern with the human rights violations of which China is guilty in Tibet and elsewhere as well as with China's contribution to the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Let me be clear. I do not believe that the city of San Francisco should insist that the Olympic torch not be taken through its streets. I think that the people who have planned to protest against San Francisco's decision to hold a parade featuring the torch would do better to use the increased media attention to protest against the Olympic games themselves.

A balance needs to be struck.

Just as boycotting the games is too extreme a measure - and one that would ultimately punish the athletes who have devoted their entire lives to Olympic dreams more than it would punish the Chinese government - failure to mention the myriad concerns regarding China's human rights record is too extreme in the opposite direction.

We must strike a balance. France is in the process of doing this as the first nation to publicly consider attending the games but boycotting the opening ceremonies.

One of the basic tenets of social media is engagement - and engagement requires give and take. You can't have a conversation with someone if you refuse to acknowledge them them. Similarly, once they're engaged, you need to be able to leverage that engagement to accomplish goals. Otherwise one entity dominates the conversation. What started out as dialog becomes monologue and ideas are no longer exchanged.

This may not always be a terrible thing. Perhaps a one-sided conversation is okay because the other side has nothing to say. When egregious human rights violations are involved, however, an imperative emerges.

Refusing to engage China is a mistake. The Olympics represent a celebration of something that is greater than any one nation or conflict. They acknowledge that it is more honorable to outrun, jump, swim or throw someone than it is to kill them. That having been said, after someone has been engaged, failure to exercise that engagement in order to make a statement that must be made is wasteful and makes the engager indelibly - if tacitly - responsible for the consequences of that failure to act.

By hosting the Olympic torch, we have engaged China. San Francisco should make it clear that it is hosting the Olympic torch out of respect for the hallowed tradition of the Olympic games and the honorable ideals for which it stands. Just as Mayor Newsom said that people should feel free to beat up China but not the Olympics, San Francisco should make it clear to the world that by hosting the torch, it is the Olympics that it supports and not the Chinese government and its actions.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Healthcare 2.0

I was at the hospital the other day because I was experiencing a pain in my right foot that my doctor said might be a stress fracture from overtraining. As it's only a few blocks away from my apartment, I opted to go to St. Mary's Medical Center.

They have a pretty clever advertising campaign on the streets near the hospital where the theme is a quote that you would hear right before someone is about to do something dangerously stupid, for instance "The expiration dates is just a guideline, right?" Followed by information on how to make a quick appointment.

They also have a pretty catchy slogan of "get in. get better. get going."

They make it remarkably easy to make an appointment, if you don't feel like spending hundreds of extra dollars unnecessarily by going to the emergency room. Not only can you go to www.docin48hours.org to book an appointment, but you can send an email to getadoc@chw.edu and expect a speedy response.

In addition to a contact phone number to book appointments, you can text, that's right, send a text message that says "SEEME" to 89183 and book an appointment that way.

I was impressed. Even when they flaunt their hipness with the following: "P.S. We may be 150 years old, but we're very Web 2.0. To see what they're saying about us on Yelp.com, search the keywords, "St. Mary's Medical Center."

The hospital's advertisement of its Yelp presence impresses me. By directing patients and potential patients to Yelp, the hospital is entrusting its reputation to the only people that it makes logical sense to entrust their reputation - their patients.

This also happens to be a group of people who - with few exceptions (IE having a baby) are probably extremely unhappy to be at the hospital and whose negative experience of injury, sickness, death, etc. can't but have a negative effect on their experience and thus likely their review.

Even the best restaurants receive the occasional poor review from an unimpressed or offended Yelper, but that doesn't keep Yelp from being an extremely positive force for most restaurants that pay attention to what its customers are saying - both at the restaurant and online. The same applies to St. Mary's Medical Center.

By directing us to Yelp, they implicitly advertise that they have confidence in their facilities and quality of service and urge us to discover their quality from other people's first hand experiences.

With Yelp, they're saying "Bring it on."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day and Johnny Cash

First off, it was a pretty good Pi Day. I was forced to make do with a slice of pizza pie this afternoon although I spent nearly an hour traipsing about the financial district looking for a bakery that sold pie - either by the slice or the whole thing - without success.

I found this vignette of a couple who decided to name their baby Pi, because of the "infinite possibilities" he will have in his life.

Although part of me thinks that Pi is a pretty wonderful name for a kid, I can't help but think that he will experience infinitely more harassment and verbal abuse because of it.

I'm reminded of the great Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue.

Mark's Myopia

Mark’s view of blogging as it relates to journalism is a myopic one.

His proposed alternative to NYT blogs – regarding so-called RealTime Yankees, City Hall, etc. – fails to address one of the most intrinsic and valuable elements of blogging. Yes, the ability to break and update events in near real-time is part of why people are increasingly turning to blogs for their news. When evaluating the merit of journalistic blogs, of equal or greater importance to real-time news updates is the ability of readers to respond to that news.

Blogs not only allow readers to respond to news items with their own updates and opinions, but readers can submit their own news items as well. Rather than being passive consumers of content, blogs enable a conversation that allows readers to focus on issues and events with which THEY are concerned.

Mark’s point of “brand equity” being diminished as a result of the user-generated content relies on the misconception that blog content will be indistinguishable from the rest of the site. This is obviously not the case. With a clear delineation between what is and is not UGC and guidelines and permissions, this basis for opposition disappears.

This two-way flow of information provides the blog’s host with valuable insights into its audience and – more importantly – engages the audience to an extent that wouldn’t be possible without the interactivity, accessibility and empowerment of blogs.

Far from diminishing the NYT “brand equity,” the NYT’s willingness to truly engage in conversation demonstrates its awareness of the importance of conversation and the wisdom of the crowds.

The Beatles are Bigger than Jesus

It's official, according to Twitter anyways.

Jesus v Beatles
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

I Prefer Pi

(A palindrome)

Happy Pi Day!

To go to the official Pi Day website, please click on the wonderful Pi limerick (Pi-merick?) below:

If, in a circle, a line
Hits the center, and runs spine to spine,
And the lines length is D
The circumference will be
D times 3.14159.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillary's (mis)use of email

From TechPresident.

This seems to be a poor way to approach email for a few reasons:

1- Many people don't have images enabled. Even if I'm not worried about the safety of the images from the Hillary campaign, it's much easier for me to go onto my next piece of mail than it is to enable them.

2- As long as they're using images, they may as well actually use them well! Although they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of words is worth no more - and in this case, less - than the words themselves. It seems that the Hillary campaign is using images instead of text for some shortcut - whose benefit is still unknown to me - rather than fully utilizing the strength of the medium.

3- You can share data more easily when it is in text form than when it is an image. This is especially important given the proliferation of such quick and informal information-disseminating venues such as blogs, Twitter and myriad instant messaging platforms. Even if you have images enabled, someone has to take the time to type out whatever information they want to share using those tools. With a text-based message, you can simply copy and paste. Simply put, information in text form has better legs than information in image form - particularly appealing/viral pictures aside.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sin 2.0

From the Vatican.

In a yearly proclamation, the Catholic Church announced updates to its list of what constitutes sin and should thus be avoided. Failure to comply will result in damnation - or at least further punishment in purgatory.

Pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experimentation were added to the list, as was social injustice such as the exacerbation of the gap between the rich and poor.

There was a particularly interesting quote from Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti - the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the pontifical office that deals with matters of conscience and grants absolution:

"If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that's especially social, rather than individual.

Essentially, the Pope is embracing the underlying tenets of Web 2.0. The connections between people are gaining importance in the Church's eyes because they are beginning to catch on to what marketers and social media practitioners have espousing for years: even individuals do not exist in a vacuum.

Will we begin to see Hail Marys on Twitter? Probably not. But this is still an interesting development whose progress will be interesting to follow.

Further coverage of the story here.

Environmental Harm from Video Games

Arguably the most social of media, video games are coming under scrutiny from Greenpeace due to their "frivalous" energy consumption. Read more about it here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hillary Campaign's Response to Obama's "Monster" Comment

"I'm willing to club a baby seal to make a deal."

Does anyone else remember that scene from the Weird Al Yankovic movie, "UHF"?

In an advertisement for a sale, a crazed use car salesman has an adorable baby seal on the hood of a car. He is brandishing a baseball bat and is screaming at the camera that unless 20 people come down to his lot and buy cars within the next 15 minutes, he is going club the baby seal. Presumably to death.

This email that I received from the Hillary campaign reminds me of that:

Gmail - Monster - reedlyon@gmail.com
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

It's hard to take any of the literature I get from the Hillary for President people seriously when the suggested response to everything is, "So you should give us more money."

When she won states, she asked for money.

When she lost states, she asked for money.

And now, when the other guy says something mean about here, she's asking for money.

I am not ignorant of the importance of money to political campaigns, I just think that the people whose support she is counting on are smart enough to know that different actions ought elicit different responses. There are more logical ways for people to respond on Hillary's behalf like writing letters, making phone calls, etc. to the Obama campaign, both tying up valuable resources and letting Obama know the extent of their ire.

Perhaps Hillary supporters or the Hillary campaign itself could make a YouTube video spoofing Michael Jackson's Thriller or something around the song "Monster Mash." That would be an appropriate and proportionate response.

I guess it's not so much that the campaign is asking for money, it's that the request is couched in the inaccurate and I think at least marginally demeaning - to the intelligence of anyone who received the solicitation - idea that donating money will prevent it from happening again in this election or future elections.

Hillary's people should just say that those sorts of ad hominem attacks ought make us - the potential donors - so angry that we should donate money to demonstrate our outrage.

I think that would be a more honest, compelling and ultimately successful request.

A(nother) Dark Side of Social Media Networks

Social networks are being used to recruit for gangs.

I suppose that it's not terribly surprising, given that the majority of people that view my LinedIn page are recruiters of some sort. Although this is no laughing matter, it is at least somewhat funny to imagine someone listing their CV of mayhem and destruction in the formal LinkedIn or Facebook format:

Interests: Petty vandalism, violence, drugs, alcohol.
Previous (gang) experience:
Prisons served time at:

Thanks to Mukund for the tip.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Straight Talk Express Runs Both Ways

From Techpresident

Approximately 50 comments were posted on Hillary, Obama, and McCain's blog and the only ones that were allowed to remain visible were those posted on McCain's.

I like that.

This is exactly what I was talking about earlier in terms of conversation and the importance of reciprocity. Social media is rewarded for its authenticity, and censoring all but positive feedback results in something that is blatantly inauthentic.

Not only does that silence important voices of dissent, but it serves to devalue the content that is left on the site - both in terms of posted content by the blogger(s) as well as the comments that have obviously been vetted and found to be satisfactory.

The mindset behind this censorship indicates one of two things:

1) That the people censoring comments think very poorly of their audience. Their censorship suggests that they believe that the people are unable to critically evaluate and synthesize information in order to form an opinion. Instead, they must be force fed meticulously crafted and vetted content without deviation.


2) That the censors are so insecure with regards to their candidate's stances on issues that they can't afford to let people comment freely.

Either way, why would someone want to vote for that candidate?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blogging and the Fourth Dimension

The fourth dimension being time, of course. The most important thing about comedy.

In this case, it is certainly an important element of blogging - but certainly not the most important. Far and away the most important element of blogging is the quality of published material. Whether it's a recipe, a personal experience, or commentary; engagingly and well-written content will help your blog to be successful.

Obviously timing plays a role in that.

A recipe for Christmas cookies in April, or for a Thanksgiving Turkey in February will not be viewed as particularly salient or timely and thus as unimportant.

A personal experience will probably be conveyed with more clarity and emotion if it happened this morning than if it happened 20 years ago - however much you were able to ruminate upon it in the interim.

Commentary - unless a novel take on a historic event - is also unlikely to turn heads if the event is no longer interesting.

I think that there is an important caveat to that third point. There are some blogs, by virtue of persistence, luck, or what have you, are newsbreakers. They get their hands on a story immediately and share it with the world. The other newsbreaking sites - if they haven't already received the information from the source, will quickly take your hint and repurpose it for themselves. There aren't a whole lot of sites that can do this.

For example, if five minutes from now, aliens landed in Detroit and started having conversations with people on the street (let's assume that they have vocal chords capable of producing a range of sounds audible to humans and that they have somehow learned English and that the atmospheric conditions of Earth are not fatal to their alien biologies, etc.).

People would go to CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. for their news. They would also go to the equivalently well-regarded online news sites. News-seekers would also likely pay attention to a blogger who credibly claims to have spoken to the aliens or was there when it happened. Perhaps he is even Twittering his encounters in real time from his cell phone.

The point is that you either have to have pre-existing credibility, the product of consistently breaking meaningful news in a timely manner, or you have to have an amazing angle.

That was an extreme example.

Let's say that there is an acquisition that has been in the works for nearly a week. It is no longer extremely new when it finally occurs, but it is still being discussed because it real. It has manifested. This is like being inundated for weeks by the scientific and trivial explanations of an upcoming lunar eclipse. It's not particularly novel but people write about it the next day anyways.

As I said before, it takes a certain degree of credibility to break these stories, both new and "old" news. Credibility that many of us - myself included - lack.

The best thing that we can do is to comment on the commentators. React to the reactors. In short: blog the bloggers.

By commenting on the blogs and articles of credible sources, you add to your own credibility - assuming, of course, that your comments are meaningful.

Doing this puts yourself and - more importantly - your ideas in front of the influencers and the people being influenced. If your ideas are valid, that audience might be convinced to go to you first. Gradually your role will change from a commentator to more of a reactionary.

In a sense, this evolution is a testament to the conversational - that is to say - reciprocal nature of new media. The readers not only determine what is written, but who writes it and from what perspective.

Power to the people.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Internet is a Series of Tubes


While most people are quick to write off Senator Ted Stevens' comment as testament to the inability of doddering old fuddy-duddies to understand the technological advances we see as commonplace, Senator Stevens' metaphor is far more apt than people give him credit.

The internet is a series of tubes. Great metaphor. Not just in an infrastructural sense but also in a deeper, metaphorical sense of which I only became aware recently while reading "Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope," a wonderful book written/compiled/fostered/nurtured by Zephyr Teachout that examines the role of the internet - and effectively social media - on the Howard Dean for president campaign of 2002 and 2004.

The internet is a series of tubes for the very simple reason that it moves something from one place to another. In the case of the internet, what is being moved happens to be data and the carrier is distributing electric pulses. In this very primitive sense, the Senator was right on.

In a deeper sense, he is even more correct and his metaphor holds even more water (pun intended).

The internet is a series of tubes because it provides the infrastructure to connect two complementary but disparate things: haves and have-nots.

The example about which Teachout's revelation came was in the case of a website being used to connect people in dire need of legal counsel with lawyers who wished to help needy members of the community.

Crowdsourcing is another great example of this. Many children dream of becoming astronauts. Unfortunately, most of these children become astro-nots and grow up to have everyday jobs like you and me (unless there are astronauts that read my blog about whom I am unaware). A crowdsourcing program at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Center provides a venue for us wannabe astronaut types to contribute to man's understanding of the cosmos.

The enthusiastic people eager to contribute their time and energy to science was there. As was the need of scientists for enthusiastic, eager, and not necessarily PhD-posessing assistance. The internet provided the tubes or pipes to transmit the resources of an enthusiastic work force to the exact place those resources would be best taken advantage of.

This is why social media is such an amazing medium. Instead of being reliant on our geographic surroundings, the mass media, and those people with whom we come into direct contact for the appropriate tubes into which to channel our passions, we can go out and find them online - or create them ourselves.

Ning is a great example of this, as are Facebook groups and I'm sure many other outlets.