Sep 062012

Twitter Political Index

The complex relationship between elections and social media continues its rapid evolvution during 2012 election. Where we once measured media interest in TV viewers, we increasingly look to data in social media to assess interest in a supporter or candidate’s performance. Of course not everyone uses Twitter and other social platforms, but the immediacy of the feedback makes them all but impossible to ignore.

Witness the current assessment of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions.  If  Ann Romney speech generated a little over 6,000 tweets a minute, Mrs. Obama shot up to 28,000 tweets per minute during her speech yesterday evening in Charlotte. The well-received speech trounced Mitt Romney’s own performance at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, which tallied some 14,000 tweets per minute last week.

Tweets per minute do not equal votes, but they do gauge the interest of a generally younger, high technology user demographic. And Twitter trending lines now tend to closely follow Gallup poll popularity ratings. No doubt, we’ll have a better understanding of this by the 2016 election, but it’s worth watching even now.

Bloomberg News notes how dramatically it has changed in just the past four years:

Four years ago, the term “social media” wasn’t widely used. On Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many tweets are sent every six minutes, said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman. In 2008, Facebook was popular mostly among college students. This year, there are more than 110,000 political Facebook pages in the U.S. and 11,000 pages for politicians, said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy and communication for Facebook.

From a full election day to an equivalent number of tweets in six minutes today – with that rate of growth, picture the political environment in four years.

So, if you’re interested in elections and social media – or perhaps just one or the other – it’s worth following the new Twitter Political Index, or Twindex, put together by Twitter, the Topsy data analysis firm, and two polling outfits. Here’s the details offered by Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter:

We believe the Twitter political index reinforces the transitional models of research,” explained Mr. Sharp. “By providing more signals, more dials — that can agree or disagree — these new technologies give a more complete picture of crafting a political forecast.”

On a company blog post, Twitter said the Twindex was built in partnership with a data analysis team from Topsy, an online search and analytics company, and two polling firms, the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

Topsy sifts through Twitter messages and uses advanced semantic analysis software to determine if someone is in support of a candidate, or a detractor.

Mr. Sharp said the index had a database of thousand of words to understand if these Twitter messages were for or against a candidate. As these messages are being shared by millions of people on Twitter, the software also takes into account colloquialisms.

Mr. Sharp noted that “bad,” for instance, could mean bad, or it be slang for good. He said that Topsy could differentiate between these words in a sentence and if they are positive or negative. 

As I write this, President Clinton just peaked at 22, 087 tweets per minute. Not quite what the First Lady did but far above everyone else. As there’s no embed option, you’ll need to visit Twindex to see the data in action, but here’s a snapshot of the historical data:

Twindex Historical Data

Aug 142012 and, the new social network under development with a very successful Kickstarter campaign has my support (and money). I agree with Dalton Caldwell’s criticism of Twitter that it reached a fork in the road and opted for the Google model of commercial support. The end result is that the social network has become more commercially oriented instead of focusing on the needs of users. As Forbes noted, Twitter’s recent tightening of its API’s only confuses users, but developers are livid. I still love Twitter and use it on a daily basis, but the ads make it frustrating and it’s clearly not moving in the right direction.

So enter Caldwell with a proposal for a user-funded social network without advertising and providing developers with easy access to its API’s. An admission fee of $50 will get you a social network without advertising and open to creative minds not thinking about how to monetize user activity. Does it become a walled garden? Perhaps. Can it succeed in an environment where people expect “free” services even though their personal data and activity is being used as the basis for corporate revenue? I’m not sure. But it’s worth the experiment and what one has to see as an important development in terms of social networking platforms. I’m happy to be part of it.

Here’s Caldwell’s take on what happened to Twitter at

I remember when you could go to and see the global firehose on the front page. They had no traffic. The global feed was mostly employees and their friends talking to each other.

When Twitter started to get traction, a year or two into their existence, I decided that Twitter was the Best Thing Ever. I realized that Twitter, because of their API, actually was a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way. I had debates with my other tech-nerd friends about whether Twitter could be one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet via their powerful API. When reporters or investors asked me what I thought the most exciting company in the valley was, I would invariably answer “Twitter”.

As I understand, a hugely divisive internal debate occurred among Twitter employees around this time. One camp wanted to build the entire business around their realtime API. In this scenario, Twitter would have turned into something like a realtime cloud API company. The other camp looked at Google’s advertising model for inspiration, and decided that building their own version of AdWords would be the right way to go.

As you likely already know, the advertising group won that battle, and many of the open API people left the company. While I can understand why the latter camp wanted to build an ad-based business, the futurist in me thinks this was a tragic mistake. If you are building an advertising/media business, it would then follow that you need to own all of the screen real-estate that users see. The next logical step would be to kill all 3rd-party clients, and lock down the data in the global firehose in order to control the “content”.

Perhaps you think that Twitter today is a really cool and powerful company. Well, it is. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been much, much more. I believe an API-centric Twitter could have enabled an ecosystem far more powerful than what Facebook is today. Perhaps you think that the API-centric model would have never worked, and that if the ad guys wouldn’t have won, Twitter would not be alive today. Maybe. But is the service we think of as Twitter today really the Twitter from a few years ago living up to its full potential? Did all of the man-hours of brilliant engineers, product people and designers, and hundreds of millions of VC dollars really turn into, well, this?

Nowadays, every time I get a K-Mart ad in my feed, or see wonky behavior in the official clients, or see Twitter drop another bomb on their developer ecosystem, I think back and wish the pro-API guys won that internal battle. 

I’m not sure how open can be – after all, the Internet is built on standards, protocols which Internet servers must recognize. In some ways, will still need a central, coherent infrastructure, but perhaps it can do that on the model of WordPress. At the end of the day, it’s not just a Wikipedia page – and even the latter functions only with editors and standards – but a platform that links to other networks.

I’m hopeful . . . and eager to see where it goes.

Aug 062012
Facebook Sponsored Stories

Photo: Marco Fieber/Flickr

If you recall, Facebook ran into an issue with its sponsored stories – when you “like” something, your name and face can be used for advertising purposes. In other words, your action can suddenly be the basis of someone else’s advertising. Users haven’t had an easy way to opt-out and it’s been a lucrative feature for Facebook, generating over a million dollars a day. A court ruling earlier this year resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement that would give users more control over how their activity is used in the network giant’s advertising. Facebook would also do a $10  million donation to charity. (

All well and good, except that U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg threw the settlement out, saying 10 million was not enough. What happens now is anyone’s guess but it clearly is not good news for Facebook. With its stock just a little over $20 a share and the prospect of insiders dumping their shares this month, Zuckerberg will probably be happy to see this summer come to a close.

That is, unless the fall brings more bad news. As it is, a million dollars a day is a hefty chuck of the $1.18 billion in revenue that Facebook posted for the second quarter (and its first as a publicly traded company). But ironically, the bad news extends beyond Facebook to anticipated tax revenues by the State of California and the United States government. With “windfall” profits getting wiped out, the Financial Times notes that California anticipated $1.5 billion in additional revenue will probably turn out to be hundreds of million lower.

Everyone seems to be getting burned except for Zuckerberg, a few venture capitalists, and the bankers. Were you surprised?


Jul 312012
Facebook logo image


Facebook is already down significantly from its opening high, and it appears headed much lower. The past three days have seen declines (now down to $21.83 as of Tuesday afternoon) and with declining user growth and no forecast for the year (did they not get the idea that you need to make earning and growth projections as a publicly held company?), investors are spooked. Even worse, there is potential deluge of over 200 million shares being dumped on the market beginning August 16th when the lockup period on employee owned shares expires. If the IPO wasn’t bad enough, earning Facebook and permanent place in business textbooks, the post-IPO slide of Facebook stock makes it appear that the debacle is continuing.

Of course, many people at Facebook will still walk away with millions of dollars, but many investors will wish they had never heard of the stock. So much for ethics and a little common sense in the stock market. Here’s the bad news from Reuters:

Facebook Inc’s shares dived 6 percent to another record low on Tuesday, sliding for the third straight day since a lackluster quarterly report showed decelerating user growth.

Investors have punished the stock of the No. 1 social network and other consumer-focused Internet companies such as Zynga Inc, questioning their ability to sustain growth and maintain lofty valuations. Last week, Facebook reported results but offered no outlook or forecast for the year, spooking investors who sought reassurance about growth in 2012.

Wall Street is also bracing for a potential deluge of millions of shares after August 16, when a post-IPO lockup period on employee share sales expires.

Despite having shed 40 percent of its value since a May 18 IPO, Facebook still trades at about 47 times forward earnings, versus Google Inc’s 15 times.

On Tuesday, Bernstein Research analyst Carlos Kirjner upgraded Facebook to market perform, but estimated the lockup’s expiry could unleash up to 211 million shares.

He valued Facebook’s core display business at just $19 a share. But he said the company’s potential around its innovative social graph was worth a $4 premium. Bernstein set Facebook’s 12-month target price at $23.

Stock predictions are notoriously unreliable but I suspect that many investors would love to see a share price of $23. But if Facebook’s mobile initiatives do not pan out (advertising revenue is very much at stake here) and user growth continues to decline (this is the future of the company), $23 dollars a share may seem hopefully idealistic.

Jul 072012
Twitters new search feature

Twitters new search feature

Twitter is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up – and with its rapid growth, it’s had trouble shaking its past – especially in its search and discovery features. And without the latter, it’s difficult to be a source of news.

CEO Dick Costolo has done his best to remind us that Twitter is not a media company. But as Matthew Ingram has pointed out on Gigaom, the platform is an “. . . information distributor — like a newswire — except everyone who uses it is constructing their own stream of news.” Regardless of what it wanted to be, Twitter has become a media entity.

But it’s a frustrating media platform. Try to search for something and you run into a deluge of tweets – too many, and too unorganized to do much good. So it’s remained a quick way to widely distribute short bursts of information, but not much of a discovery tool.

That changed today with Twitter’s announcement of an upgrade to its search tool. From the Twitter Blog:

After you enter your search, you’ll find the most relevant Tweets, articles, accounts, images and videos for your query. We’ve also made several other improvements to make your search experience better.

  • Spelling corrections: If you misspell a term, we’ll automatically show results for your intended query.
  • Related suggestions: If you search for a topic for which people use multiple terms, we will provide relevant suggestions for terms where the majority of that conversation is happening on Twitter.
  • Results with real names and usernames: When you search for a name like ‘Jeremy Lin,’ you’ll see results mentioning that person’s real name and their Twitter account username.
  • Results from people you follow: In addition to seeing ‘All’ or ‘Top’ Tweets for your search, you can also now see Tweets about a given topic from only the people you follow when you select the ‘People you follow’ view. Viewing Tweets about a topic from just the people you follow is a great way to find useful information and join the conversation.

So Twitter will now return “relevant Tweets, articles, accounts, images and videos” in a query. It’s not perfect and one major limitation is that you cannot search that far back in the timeline. But this is a move in the right direction and long overdue.

Jul 052012

Zuckerberg checking email on mobile device. Image: Business Insider

CNET has a hard hitting article on Facebook’s Email Debacle after its recent move to change users’ email addresses. Users have been up in arms over lost emails and address books that were apparently overwritten. Facebook has encountered a series of failures in trying to resolve the issues but worst of all is the approach it has taken – blame the users.

Facebook responded to CNET’s original article documenting the problems by saying:

Regarding the “email loss” this may actually just be confusion around the Messages Inbox: By default, messages from friends or friends of friends go into your Inbox. Everything else goes to your Other folder. 

(If you click on Messages in your left hand navigation menu, you’ll see below it an Other folder that drops down.) That is likely where the messages are being sent from other people’s emails. Even if that person is friends with them on Facebook, if the friend doesn’t have that email on their Facebook account, the message could end up in the Other folder.

CNET’s Violet Blue goes on to point out that:

Rather than addressing the missing e-mail issue, Facebook seems fit to chalk up the e-mail interceptions as operator error: falling back on the notion that users either are not looking in the secondary inbox, or that users didn’t tell the Facebook Messages system it was OK to receive e-mails from non-Facebook contacts.

All of which could be blamed on user incompetence — if anyone had been aware that Facebook had changed their primary e-mails, made them public, and then Facebook changed individuals’ contact information outside of Facebook on their contact’s phones, devices, and computers (via the API’s synch).

You’ve crossed a line when you start to blame your users, but to then start changing information on their synced mobile devices without acknowledging the issue just adds to the anger. ReadWriteWeb sums up the mess that that 900 million member social network has created:

The problems first came to light on several blogs. Adobe employee Rachel Luxemburg, for example, noted that a co-worker had noticed his contact info for her had been updated with the address that was widely discussed early last week. But messages did not appear to be going through to her – perhaps, as Chin suggested, because they were being filed in the “Other” email folder.

“They’ve vanished into the ether,” Luxemburg wrote. “For all I know, I could be missing a lot more emails from friends, colleagues or family members, and never even know it.”

But the overwriting of contact information in people’s mobile devices may prove to be a bigger problem for Facebook. The company faced a backlash last week when it switched the default email address in people’s profiles to in an effort to jumpstart use of its email service, which has failed to live up to the “Gmail killer” status it was given when it first launched in 2010.

Facebook did not back down, but simply told users how they could switch their default contact info back to the email address of their choice. It was not clear if the fix for the updated contact info is a manual fix for each address in your device. 

We’ve all seen the meteoric rise of Facebook, though it has stumbled here and there – most visibly in its recent stock offering. But the blame there could be distributed across financial institutions, an incompetent NASDAQ, greedy investors and a host of villains. The current email issue Facebook has to own unless it wants to see that vast global user base bail out for another platform.

Time for some serious all-night hackathons, Mark.

Jun 022012

Now that the Facebook IPO has had a week on the market, we have a better sense of what happened. But despite the bungled opening by NASDAQ (investors not having confirmations of their trades), the insider information given to preferred clients, the real problem seems to be that Facebook has already matured as a company. A mature company in the social network arena? A word of explanation here.

In the initial stages of a successful technology company, financial results are blowing away expectations. Not only is a company beating everyone’s predictions, they’re beating the general consensus about the market – that’s it’s not possible to even make money in this market segment. This was true of Google and search; equally true of Apple and digital music. As a result, investors are willing to assign an extremely high multiple to earnings.

It was most definitely true of Facebook and social media, except that in the early days (I know, only a few years back) Facebook wasn’t doing an IPO. But in doing the IPO this year, Facebook has already matured and revenue growth is shrinking rapidly. Google went public earlier in it’s corporate life and the result was that investors reaped the rewards of its growth – for the first five years its stock price continued to rise; for the past four, it has languished in the same range.

Henry Blodget details the problem in Business Insider:

Because Facebook’s business is decelerating rapidly–advertising revenue grew only 37% in Q1–and the company is no longer “beating expectations.” Facebook is also already a big mature business, with more than $4 billion of revenue and $1 billion of earnings.

The best way to see this is in a graph of Facebook’s Revenue Growth. And what the graph doesn’t show is the risk it faces in trying to increase its revenue stream without alienating its 100′s of millions of users. Trying to monetize the “Like Button’ can bring about a backlash as in the recent case that was settled out of court with five users angry about their profiles being used in advertisements (more on that later).

Blodget’s conclusion is not that Facebook is a doomed company, it’s just a mature one saddled with wildly inflated expectations. A large number of people made off very well in this IPO as they were in at the beginning; just don’t expect the same now that the public can weigh in on its value.

Chart-Facebook Revenue Growth

May 222012

Twitter Access Temporarily Banned in PakistanAnother government takes on Twitter . . .  and quickly backs down. Or so it seems. Access to Twitter was blocked throughout Pakistan on Sunday due to messages “offensive to Islam”. While there were references to “blasphemous and inflammatory content” by the Ministry for Information and Technology, no reason was given for the ban, or the face that it was quickly lifted it eight hours later. According to the AtlanticWire, the action was taken due to tweets regarding a Facebook competition that called for users to submit drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (images of the prophet are forbidden).

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times the ban is,

. . . ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be.” He added that, “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.  

It sounds though as if many Pakistani were able to get around the ban by using proxy servers. According to the Guardian:

The ban was made largely irrelevant by tech-savvy users. Twitter members, many aided by online articles in the Pakistani media explaining how to circumvent the curbs, installed proxy servers to shield their web browsing. Once back online, many posted angry tweets about the shutdown.

One poster wondered how a known terrorist “can roam and operate freely in Pakistan whilst social media is banned!

Perhaps more troubling is the article by Huma Yusuf  (a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn) in today’s New York Times on the temporary ban. He notes that many bloggers feel this was just a test run:

In February, Pakistan invited bids for an Internet filtering system that could block up to 50 million URLs (the idea was shelved following a backlash from civil society). Last year, the P.T.A. attempted to ban 1,500 “immoral” terms from use in cellphone text messages. In 2010, a Pakistani court banned Facebookand other social network sites for two weeks on the grounds that they were hosting blasphemous content. A few years earlier, the Pakistani government made YouTube crash worldwide after trying to block the site for streaming the infamous Danish cartoons of Muhammad.

The government claims to be censoring only blasphemous content, but it is notable that social networking sites are among the few remaining venues in Pakistan for unfettered political debate. The IT ministry has blocked dozens of Web sites that champion the cause of separatists in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, where human rights abuses by the security establishment are rampant. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine was blockedonline after publishing an article about the Pakistani Army’s expenditures.

Many bloggers and free speech activists in Pakistan believe that the Twitter ban was a “test run” by the IT ministry — a chance to flex its censorship muscles. With the experiment occurring months ahead of the next expected general election, Pakistanis should take any violation of their right to free speech seriously. The next ban may not be as short-lived as this one. 

A number of countries and social groups are pushing back against the new-found freedom of expression facilitated by social media. It is sad to see reactionary forces try to stifle dialogue under the pretense of offending someone or as in the case of Azerbaijan where social media has become synonymous with deviance and criminality.


May 192012

Don't like sign for FacebookWhat a day in the market for the highly anticipated Facebook IPO.

Facebook struggled to move above its $38 per share opening price and while it opened at $40.05 and briefly made it to $42 a share, it sunk back down to $38. It might have gone lower in the final 20 minutes of trading and it appears that the underwriters were forced to purchase shares to keep the price above $38 (see the brief analysis in Business Insider).  So, a lot of hype, a small increase, a near embarrassment, and we end up right where we began at the opening.

What happened? A couple of things conspired to weaken the demand in the open market including the following:

  •  Everyone is still talking about GM pulling its advertising on Facebook even though there is no broader move to do the same by major advertisers – just bad timing
  • The market is generally weak with fears that Greece may leave the Euro this summer
  • The 25% increase in shares offered took care of the demand that there was
  • Some of the “smart money” seemed to be selling – never a good sign when investors are getting ready to buy
The last two are probably the most significant factors and despite the public’s fascination with social media, the demand for the stock had already dried up. As the LA Times put it:

But perhaps the biggest blunders came in recent days as the company and its largest shareholders moved to maximize their profits at the expense of new investors.On Monday, Facebook raised the stock’s projected price to a range of $34 to $38 from the initial $28 to $35, and priced it at the peak of $38 on Thursday. That made Facebook far more expensive than established competitors such as Apple Inc. and Google Inc. based on the companies’ earnings.On Wednesday, the company announced that longtime investors led by Goldman Sachs planned to sell big chunks of their holdings in the IPO. That struck some investors as greedy and a sign that Wall Street insiders were getting out while they could.

In short, greed got the better of everyone involved. While many employees and early investors became millionaires many times over, the broader market decided to wait it out. The market can do anything and Facebook’s share price could easily move up over the coming weeks. But this is no Linkedin with a 49% surge on the first day. The wisdom of the crowd prevailed.
 We’ll see what happens next week.
NASDAQ Welcomes Facebook in Times Square

NASDAQ Welcomes Facebook in Times Square

May 182012

With the Facebook IPO taking off this morning, there are now a thousand new millionaires in the world due to the sale of Facebook stock. A few will be closer to billionaires – and a couple of the founders, billionaires many times over (though none with the new net worth of nearly $20 billion for founder Mark Zuckerberg). But many of the employees will do very well for themselves depending on the date they joined and their role in the company.

If you’re curious as to how this works, here’s a helpful chart from Business Insider that lays out the paths by which many employees will find this their lucky day while others – and no doubt some former employees – will wish things had gone differently. For a different view, take a look at the interactive graphic at Business Week that conveys the new-found relative wealth of the founders, investors, employees and some former employees.

Just in case there were doubters (and there are a few), Zuckerberg had programmers do one of their all-night hackathons last night to show that they are still hustling to move ahead. They better – with $3 billion in revenue, Facebook is valued at over 100 times historical earnings in contrast to Google’s 19 times and Apple’s 14 times.

Facebook Employees - the Path to Becoming a Millionaire

Facebook Employees - the Path to Becoming a Millionaire

May 162012
Kali Ma beer advertisement

Kali Ma beer advertisement

Burnside Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon decided to offer a beer named “Kali-Ma” celebrating their “favorite childhood movie” Temple of Doom only to be stopped by the global reach of social networks. Hearing of the beer and the ads, a New York-based Indian, Shikha Sehgal, began an online campaign that quickly spread to India and communities of Hindus around the world.

From the Gothamist:

Now Burnside Brewing Company is getting some sensitivity training, thanks in no small part to one Shikha Sehgal, a New York-based Indian who started an online backlash against the beer, writing on her Facebook page, “My Indian friends here and I are never going to sip a single drop of that beer even if it’s available for free. How could they take our religion for granted?” News of their special Kali-ma beer soon spread all the way to the the Indian Parliament, where officials called for the US ambassador to explain the meaning of this, and one lawmaker asked, “Can they show the god of any other faith like this?” (Well, legally, yes.) 

As of now, release of the beer has been “postponed” (until they come up with a different name perhaps?) and Burnside Brewery has issued an apology.

While the Temple of Doom might be someone’s favorite movie (but, really? It’s not even the best one in the series), one might be well advised to ask how it was received outside of America before using it for product naming and an advertising campaign. Temple of Doom was generally well received in the global market . . . but not quite so well in India. And in all honesty, doing an advertisement that portrayed a deity with three severed heads just might create a bit of a backlash. I’m trying to imagine how well a beer from another country would be received here if it was named “Christian Crusader Beer” with an ad campaign featuring a cross and, well, it could still have the three severed heads.

It’s a textbook case of product development and social media – and how an increasingly connected world is forcing people to look beyond their own borders.

May 152012

Azerbaijan arrestCountries that see social media as a threat to their stability usually try to censor content or limit access, but the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan has tried a different approach. In the news recently as the upcoming host of the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the world’s most popular and widely followed non-sporting events, Azerbaijan has poured money into infrastructure projects to clean up its image. But this small country has made it very clear over the past few years that it has no love of the Internet and has taken a novel approach to keeping people off line.

According to Sarah Kendzior and Katy Pearce in Slate:

Over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has waged an aggressive media campaign against the Internet. Social media has become synonymous with deviance, criminality, and treason. Television programs show ‘‘family tragedies’’ and ‘‘criminal incidents’’ after young people join Facebook and Twitter. In March 2011, the country’s chief psychiatrist proclaimed that social media users suffer mental disorders and cannot maintain relationships. In April 2012, the Interior Ministry linked Facebook use with trafficking of woman and sexual abuse of children. Since May 2011, the Azerbaijani parliament has been debating laws to curtail social media, citing the deleterious effect on society. Social media has become a vital political issue despite the fact that 78 percent of Azerbaijanis have never used the Internet, only 7 percent go online daily, and just 7 percent—almost all male, highly educated, and wealthy—use Facebook.

Is the campaign successful? Just compare Azerbaijan to its two neighboring countries Armenia and Georgia where the cost of technology and access is comparable. In the latter countries, 20% are online every day while in Azerbaijan, it’s only a paltry 7 percent. And with ongoing arrests of anyone who speaks out on the Internet, online discussions are not a means of empowerment but potential evidence for the state police.

Social media can be a powerful tool, but for the moment, Azerbaijan has proven that given a certain set of circumstances, users can be controlled. If you want more details on the situation there, Sarah Kendzior and Katy Pearce provide a more scholarly account in a March 2012 article in the Journal of Communication, appropriately titled: “Networked Authoritarianism and Social Media in Azerbaijan.” As they see it, networked authoritarianism is the third stage of censorship, creating an illusion of transparency while undermining political dissent.

The first generation is characterized by widespread filtering and other attempts at direct censorship. These were rarely exclusively practiced in the former Soviet Republics (today’s Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] countries). Second-generation controls involving the manipulation of law to regulate Internet content are used in the CIS countries. Specific tactics include redefining what is acceptable content within the national media space, and most notably for our purposes, ‘‘expanded use of defamation, slander, and ‘veracity’ laws, to deter bloggers and independent media from posting material critical of the government or specific government officials, however benignly (including humor)’’ (Deibert & Rohozinski, 2010, p. 25). Third-generation controls do not attempt to control Internet access, but to compete with it ‘‘through effective counter information campaigns that overwhelm, discredit, or demoralize opponents’’ (Deibert & Rohozinski, 2010, p. 27). 

Worth reading if you have a strong interest in social media and its relationship to political freedom.

Clockwise from top left: Azerbaijan Eurovision entrant Sabina Babayeva; Baku skyline; journalist Idrak Abbasov in hospital; police detain an opposition activist at a demonstration; Abbasov on the ground shortly after being assaulted; military parade in Baku last year; a park in central Baku; Engelbert Humperdinck; Ell and Nikki (centre), Azerbaijan's Eurovision winning entry from last year

Clockwise from top left: Azerbaijan Eurovision entrant Sabina Babayeva; Baku skyline; journalist Idrak Abbasov in hospital; police detain an opposition activist at a demonstration; Abbasov on the ground shortly after being assaulted; military parade in Baku last year; a park in central Baku; Engelbert Humperdinck; Ell and Nikki (centre), Azerbaijan's Eurovision winning entry from last year Image from the Daily Mail

May 102012

In a world awash in social media and video, those in power have to try to connect with people in new ways. So now we have Prince Charles playing the weatherman for a few minutes at BBC’s Scotland headquarters in Glasgow for its 60th anniversary celebration.  His script has him focusing on the location of the royal residences in Scotland and he actually does okay – though at the beginning he looks a little nervous and skeptical at the remote control he has in his hand. Of course the forecast was “cold, wet and windy” due to an “influence of low pressure.”

However you view the Royal Family, it’s definitely one of their funnier appearances in recent years. Let’s just say their use of Twitter (@BritishMonarchy) and other media leans toward the formal side (though it has lightened up over the past year). But again, you can thank social media as it becomes increasingly difficult to remain disconnected no matter what your status.

May 062012
Sheriff B. J. Roberts of Hampton - Reorganizing or Political Retaliation

Sheriff B. J. Roberts of Hampton - Just Reorganizing or Political Retaliation?

Once again, technology faces off against our conceptions of free speech as a Federal Judge ruled that the “Like” button on Facebook is not protected speech covered by the First Amendment. The New York Times has the details of the case which will no doubt lead to an appeal:

Exactly what a “like” means — if anything — played a part in a case in Virginia involving six people who say Sheriff B. J. Roberts of Hampton fired them for supporting an opponent in his 2009 re-election bid, which he won. The workers sued, saying their First Amendment rights were violated.

Sheriff Roberts said some of the workers were let go because he wanted to replace them with sworn deputies while others were dismissed because of poor performance or his belief that their actions “hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office.”

One of those workers, Daniel Ray Carter, had “liked” the Facebook page of Sheriff Roberts’s opponent, Jim Adams.

While public employees are allowed to speak as citizens on matters of public concern, Judge Raymond A. Jackson of Federal District Court ruled that clicking the “like” button did not amount to expressive speech. In other words, it was not the same as actually writing out a message and posting it on the site. 

Facebook "Like" ButtonSpeech on Facebook and other social networking sites has come up before, but the court cases always involved actual words (such as posting a message on a site). This case focuses on clicking the “Like” button so it enters uncharted territory. Physically doing a thumbs-up gesture has been seen by the courts as protected speech, and given that the “Like” button seems to fall somewhere between that and a form of writing online, you would think the ruling would have gone the other. Otherwise, we’ll get into a strange dichotomy where actual words are covered but anything symbolic online (text message emoticons) are not.

We’ll see how a higher court rules.

Apr 242012
Facebook - The Early Days at Palo Alto

Facebook - The Early Days at Palo Alto

Now that Facebook is filing for its IPO, we learning a little more about the company other than its astonishing growth rate over the past few years. With its high market penetration rates, Facebook is acknowledging that its torrid pace in adding new users will begin to slow. In the past growth in the number of users has kept the company on track, but soon it will have to look elsewhere:

We expect that our user growth and revenue growth rates will decline as the size of our active user base increases and as we achieve higher market penetration rates.

At over 900 million users now, it’s simply running out of potential markets and will need to draw more income from current users.

And what is your value to Facebook? Break it down and you’re worth about $1.21 to them, a 6% increase from a year ago.

Mar 292012

Memorial for Trayvon Martin

Thousands rally, the news media pontificates, “experts” weigh in on one side and the other. Incredibly, an entire month has passed in the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, an event that had the initial investigator planning to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.  Details continue to emerge and social media reacts, and with the exception of the crowds on the street, seems to be a primary force in pushing the investigation forward.

Unfortunately, social media isn’t always on target: the purported address of Mr. Zimmerman that was rapidly shared through Twitter turned out to be that of an elderly couple with no connection to the case.

A school-cafeteria lunch lady and her husband have received hate mail, unwanted visits from reporters and fearful inquiries from neighbors — all because their Sanford-area address is being disseminated on Twitter as belonging to Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman, her son said late Tuesday.

The woman, 70, who has a heart condition, and her husband, 72, have temporarily moved to a hotel to avoid the spotlight and possible danger, said son Chip Humble of Longwood.

The woman has another son named William George Zimmerman who lived with her in 1995 and still lives in Central Florida. He is no relation to George Zimmerman, 28, who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Feb. 26, sparking national outrage and international interest.

William Zimmerman isn’t sure how his mother and stepfather’s address became public. He said he used it to register a car, get a drivers license and vote when he lived there briefly after college. 

Of course, weighed in the balance of the broader issues and the loss of life, this is relatively minor (though you would think otherwise if it was you). But it is still troubling how social media can be both a force for change and take on the qualities of a mob mentality. Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, was spot on. But truth and self-organizing movements are not always in sync.

Just ask the elderly couple hiding in a hotel.

Mar 032012
KLM Interior

KLM Interior

A new KLM Royal Dutch Airlines feature will allow customers to choose seat assignments based on Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. According to MediaPost, this is only available on a few routes at present, but they plan on expanding the option throughout their service area. Customers can see profiles of potential seatmates, select someone with similar interests (or perhaps someone they don’t think will talk to them), and an email will go to the other passenger with a link to the selector’s profile.

Interesting concept, though I doubt everyone will jump on it – it’s one thing to have a follower online that you’ve never met; quite another to have to sit next to them for six hours on a transcontinental flight. But no doubt there will be some takers.

It will be interesting to see just how popular this becomes, or if it is applied to other travel modes. Trains may seem a more likely option since there’s more space and in many cases the option to politely end a conversation through a trip to the cafe car.

Mar 022012

Traditional media can occasionally get creative and resourceful (perhaps we all do when faced with extinction): consider this brilliant ad by The Guardian as they retell the story of the Three Little Pigs in a world where news is embedded in social media. No longer just a reporter’s article, the  story takes a number of unexpected twists and turns as rumors and facts emerge from multiple sources, eventually leading to Occupy Wall Street type demonstrations as the pigs are charged with murder and then . . . (well, watch the ad to see the ending).

News from all sources – it’s The Guardian’s position that this is the only way traditional media will survive, that a new form of “open journalism” follows a story through every means available. Whether or not you think they’ll succeed, the ad will definitely make you see the Three Little Pigs in an entirely different light. And there’s a little more detail on what “open journalism” from Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian itself:


Feb 262012
Infographic - 60 Seconds of Social Media

Infographic - 60 Seconds of Social Media

What happens in social media in a single minute? More than you might imagine and the numbers continue to astound. The latest effort to visualize this from Social Jumpstart and their infographic is worth a look. The highlights:

  • 175,000 tweets
  • 700,000 Facebook messages sent
  • 2 million videos viewed on Youtube

You can draw your own conclusions about where we’re going but just remember the first Wright Brothers flight was only 120 feet, a little less than the length of the economy class section of a modern Boeing 474. The numbers above are only a minute crack in the doorway to where we’ll be in another ten years.

Feb 052012

Super Bowl 2012Blame it on social media – this year marks a shift in corporate advertising strategy at the Super Bowl. Yes, the ads still run an astronomical $3.5 million (with a waiting list in case someone pulls one) but the days of secrecy surrounding the commercials are drawing to a close. There’s more bang for the (millions of) buck in releasing ads ahead of time to generate social buzz. They’ll still be shown, but many are already online with the ad agencies praying for  a viral hit.

You can preview the first cut at The Atlantic and yesterday they pulled together a second set, which is not so interesting since they are all commercials for upcoming movies. Some from the first group are pretty funny, but nothing stands out at the moment for me. If you need to head back and see the ads of Super Bowls past, there are top-ten lists everywhere, and of decidedly varying quality. Best is to check out the overview of lists – yes, a top-ten list of the lists – over at the Examiner.

Jan 192012

Beijing begins to clamp down on social media announcing that they will force users to register for the micro-blog service. From the Guardian:

China will expand real-name registration for microblog users, a senior propaganda official has said. Authorities have grown increasingly concerned about the speed with which information and allegations can spread on the Twitter-like services, which have more than 300m registered users in China.

Last month, the Beijing municipal government said users would have three months to register their real identities or face the consequences.

Comparison of Twitter and Sina Weibo

Comparison of Twitter and Sina Weibo from

According to Wang Chen, Minister of the State Council Information Office.

Microblogging is a new medium that can spread information rapidly and have a big influence. It covers a wide population and can mobilise people. . . . (However) we also need to control the spread of rumors undermining social stability; harmful, for example pornographic, information; and illegal conduct for commercial purposes.”

With over 300 million users, Sina Weibo now plays a significant role in Chinese media, particularly when it comes to public tragedies, such as last year’s high-speed train crash. It has a broader range of features than Twitter including information filters and a higher retweet ratio. One newspaper recently described social media services as “worse than cocaine” but the real issue for the Chinese government is that they want to maintain control over the public discourse. With rapid economic growth and and a population with rising expectations, they’re sitting on a time-bomb and the fuse is social networking.

Jan 072012

U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady denied a motion to suspend previous orders allowing the U.S. Dept. of Justice to access account information of three individuals on Twitter suspected of having ties to WikiLeaks. According to Mashable, this case has been going on since 2010 with a judge issuing a secret order to grant access. Since then, it’s been tied up in legal motions but has now reached a critical point.

According to Salon, the request for records goes back to early 2009:

The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope.  It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the ”means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards.

Three people are targeted in the investigation into Wikileaks and Julian Assange including a security expert, Jacob Appelbaum, , Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland’s Parliament and the Dutch activist Rop Gonggrijp.  The order was originally issued on December 14 and kept sealed — i.e., Twitter was barred notifying even the targets of the order.  However, the order was unsealed on Twitter’s request on January 5 so that the service could inform the users and give them ten days to object, which is where it stands now.

At this point, it appears that Twitter has no choice but to comply with the court order, but there remains other issues here in that Birgitta Jonsdottir is a member of another nation’s government. According to Glenn Greenwald in Salon:

 Jónsdóttir told me that as “a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee [of Iceland's Parliament] and the NATO parliamentary assembly,” she intends to ”call for a meeting at the Committee early next week and ask for the ambassador to meet” her to protest the DOJ’s subpoena for her records.

Clearly the DOJ is going after the people involved in the controversial “Collateral Murder” video, a video released in 2008  that depicted a U.S. Apache helicopter attack on journalists and civilians in Baghdad, particularly the killing of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. An account of the video is at “Wikileaks Video on Reuters Story: Collateral Damage or ‘Collateral Murder?” and actual video is online on Youtube. Worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

Final point: are they really going to get that much out of Twitter records since it would seem that there is little there that would be entirely private unless there was a host of DM’s (Direct Messages) between the three? And even then, the DM’s have to be within Twitter’s 140 character limit.

Jan 042012
China Internet Cafe

China Internet Cafe

New study from Forrester Research surveying a 100,000 social media users in India, China and the West reveals that users in emerging markets are much more likely to be producers of content while those in the West tend toward being just consumers. The survey was done in the second and third quarters of 2011 and according to the account in Mashable:

Consumers in emerging markets also tend to be creators, according to the report. In fact, 80% of Indians and 76% of Chinese fit that description, which Forrester defines as someone who publishes a blog or a website, uploads video and/or music and/or writes and posts stories once or more a month. In the U.S., the figure is 24% while in Europe it was 23%.

Reineke Reitsma, vp and research director at Forrester, says the differences are less attributable to differences in national character than respondents’ age and relative positions on the adoption curve. Overall, the Chinese and Indian people polled were younger than their U.S and European counterparts. (They were also urban — all of them were based in major cities.)

But age is only part of the equation: “In China, Brazil, even Spain instead of using email or IM people immediately go to social networking,” says Reitsma.

In comparison, consumers in mature markets such as the U.S. and Europe are using social media less for communicating than for finding and processing information. About 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada are deemed “spectators” in the study, meaning that they merely consume social content. About one third of people in those regions are “critics” who respond to existing social content. 

I need to process this one. The long-term ubiquity of television in the West may be one factor (we’ve been long trained to sit in front of a screen and do nothing  -  essentially just consume) but age definitely factors into the results.

Jan 032012

Though I’m quite happy to be on vacation this week and off in a remote part of the Rhodope Mountains on the Greek – Bulgarian border, I will miss the initial results on the Iowa caucuses given the time difference. Some thoughts later tomorrow if there are any surprises in the results. For now, I’ll leave you with the Google Insights for Search chart that represents the Web interest on the major candidates over the past 30 days. No surprise that Ron Paul comes out on top, with Romney in second and a surging Rick Santorum to round out the top three.

You may also want to see how the Washington Post’s new MentionMachine does as it is tracking both Twitter and Media mentions. I can’t decide if it will be that accurate a barometer or is just the Post trying anything to be innovative. Based on Twitter activity over the past week, it also has Paul – Romney – Santorum in that order. It will be interesting to see how both tools do in contrast to more traditional polling techniques.