Archive for December 18th, 2008

After using Facebook and Twitter at high volume for a few months, I’m ready to say it: one has universal appeal, the other most decidedly does not. I like both, but I have to take a strong position against folks who think everyone should be on Twitter. Everyone should not be on Twitter. In fact, a lot of the people who are there might be better off if they were not.

Take #TCOT for example. The “Top Conservatives on Twitter” meme has exploded on the site, but its value is highly debatable. In some ways, the “hash-tagged” chats on Twitter are like the free-for-all chat rooms from the genesis of AOL, fun, but hardly useful. And Twitter even has the same built-in product killer as AOL, a high rate of anonymous handles that lead to low-brow behavior.

Twitter is great for building communities of interest. It’s great for mingling with like-minded people and for pushing your content. There’s lots to like. But, it’s not for everyone. It’s culture is a two-way communication channel, so it’s not a good tool for someone who only wants to push content. Don’t you hate it when you are trying to skip over a TV commercial to another channel (OK, didn’t you hate it before TiVo) but all the channels have commercials breaks running? That’s what it’s like when a newspaper, writer, or politician is simply using Twitter to tell you about what they’ve just published elsewhere.  Twitter is about adding value, and for those who don’t have the time or energy to do that, Twitter is not the right tool.

Should every business be on Twitter? Should the papers and politicians be on Twitter? I guess that question is a bit easier, because anybody with something to sell can likely find at least a portion of its customers on Twitter. But that question of customers has to be asked; and businesses and politicians must do Twitter. It’s its own animal.

So why do I think Facebook is for everyone? Simple. It’s got more. It’s geared toward real people, it’s got a robust developer community, and it appeals to all kinds of users. It works for well for many types of users, all in the mix together. Simply, Twitter is a conversation, Facebook is a community.

More later. Your thoughts below.


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Steve Ressler, the creative and driven founder of GovLoop.com, calls himself a late early adopter, which makes him a government innovator. Heritage media works the same way, often adapting to trends just as they change. I know, because I worked in small and mid-size news orgs for seven years, as an editor and reporter. I started a work-related blog in 2003 to share the notes about local politcs that wouldn’t fit into my San Francisco Examiner column, The Body Politic.

Today, newspapers are blogging, but my thought has been that while Web 1.0 – just using the Internet to share info, really – crippled the heritage press (or “MSM,” or “traditional media,” or “old media,” I just happen to like the word “heritage”), Web 2.0 – collaborative information sharing in informal and world-spanning communication networks – has the potential to kill it off. Communication, as common observers and academics alike have pointed out, is moving back from the heirarchical structure engendered by press>radio>TV to a more natural state of community. I do like the heritage media – it’s where many of my friend, those not already laid off, work today. I cringe whenever I see a “Save Newspapers,” petition requests on Facebook. Newspapers as a core business are walking dead – don’t use social media to save them, use social media.

But, in the same way that late adopters in government are moving into Web 2.0 (the feds are way ahead of state and local in this area – perhaps due to budgets that don’t have to balance), I’m seeing signs of life in journalism. Newsgatherers are going where the community is. I believe that Twitter.com, sort of an open community of text messagers, is the place to watch for innovation incubation. Look to Fed 2.0 (and consultants like Steve Radick of Booz Allen Hamilton), and bleeding edge media tweeters like John A Byrne and the LA Times. In 10 years, there will be only a few giant news orgs – and, as many of the local papers and micro-targeters as choose to adapt to a world where print is only a small part of your operation and eyeballs. The ads and coupons must move online. Heck, for a deal at Black Angus every couple weeks, I’ll check your paper’s Facebook page or follow your tweets (it was the only reason I bought your paper). The revenue is there, it’s just that Google, Drudge and the like are siphoning it with your own content. It’s time for newspapers orgs to adapt, adopt, and build self-sustaining multi-platform content and ad networks that will keep my smart friends cranking out the copy for generations to come.

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Many have already commented on how the Obama campaign took the leap into the Web 2.0 world in the same way that Kennedy beat Nixon by harnessing the power of the TV. While many of the Obama strategies had been tried before, they really came of age this year. The questions for engaged citizens across the political and social spectrum is how the successes of the Obama campaign can be replicated. I would hazard that the campaign contains lessons for fundraisers, non-profits, political campaigns of all sizes, and private and public management teams (add your own in the comments!) for starters.

Instead of going to the well over and over again with larger donors throughout the campaign (a truly ineffective strategy in this age of campaign finance reform) or relying on outside groups to raise and spend huge sums that would have been outside the official campaign’s control, the Obama campaign continued to target new donors all the way to the last few weeks of the campaign. People could easily feel part of the campaign just by giving up a lunch out, and didn’t feel any financial exhaustion. This created financial buy-in from a huge universe of supporters instead of the normal cocktail circuit. Each of these supporters then had not only an interest or ideological stake, but a financial one in the outcome. Web tools allowed this.

The campaign also had social networks attached to its web site, allowing supporters to make friends, communicate, plan and set up their own events that could then be attended by other supporters. While the central message of the campaign was tightly controlled and focused (in Nevada, organizers told supporters not to say one bad word about the rival candidates and to act as if Obama were present every step of the way), which dazzled the media, it was also extremely loose at the ground level. Fundraising, phone banking and other events were open to all – even a single person at home with a long-distance connection. Each volunteer had buy in, access to key information, and could work as much or as little as they wanted. And it worked, big time. Web 2.0 enthusiasts now have a masterwork to follow as we think about how we can use these tools to organize, fundraise and change our own communities, and, as broadband access increases, the world.

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I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of communications technologies since reading the Isaac Asimov Robot and Foundation books as a young teen. Asimov was a futurist without equal. His vision of the far future included the imagining of the Spacers, a first-wave of extraterrestrial settlers who had grown sedentary in reliance on robot servants. In one memorable sequence, he described how they would meet and communicate almost entirely through holographic projections. That somewhat dark projection is intriguing but unlikely without a huge evolution in the human psyche. We crave contact – and in the modern life, we can accentuate the physical with so much more. A couple years back, I clipped a newspaper article about a company that hoped to capitalize on the nuclear family by providing video networking solutions for families to have dinner with their far-flung aged relatives.

The future is now, although I’m now sure how much of the population yet realizes it. Current technologies in the next five-10 years will revolutionize how we communicate and come together, from family relationships, religious affiliations, work, politics and just about every sphere of our lives. A new Pew study, “Networked families,” (pdf), discusses how technology actually has created the ability to be closer in our human relationships (for a while social scientists were projecting the opposite). I can say that text messaging and video calling service such as Skype and Tokbox are changing my life for the better. Who stops calling or meeting with their families because of e-mail, phone and texting? These technologies in fact accentuate family and friend relationships, as found in the Pew study.

As a Government 2.0 enthusiast, I am very interested in how these technologies will revolutionize grassroots Democracy and citizen participation. Also noted in the Pew study is the clear-as-the-nose-on-our-face fact that modern life is incredibly busy. As a longtime observer and participant in local government – the agencies in so many ways responsible for our immediate surroundings, from school performance to play fields to built environment – I have noticed something sad that I believe is nearly universal in capitalist democracy. Even though so many local government decisions impact the citizenry as a whole, there are generally only three groups who are intimately involved in petitioning that government: retirees with plenty of free time, those with vested financial interests of one kind or another, and single-issue/attention cranks. “Just folks” are so busy that if an issue fails to directly impact them (and even then they might need an activist to alert them to that impact), that they barely vote, let alone participate in local democratic decision-making.

But what if government changed? What if after the soccer game, religious gathering, family dinner, late meeting, etc., you could check your local network and know exactly what was going on with your local government? What if you could meet and discuss issues easily and quickly online with your neighbors? What if you could participate in interactive polls during a lull at work, or from your cell phone, to tell your local government what was most important to you? What if consultants and city staff asked your opinion on various design components for a new commercial or recreational development, complete with a slides you could pull up quickly and look over? What if you then got a chance to discuss and vote on options before the city council, and even to weigh in with a comment to the council by video, either live or recorded? The tools are here. The question for the moment is whether our local governments are ready.

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There are so many community building apps available today, it’s possible to tailor a 2.0 solution or toolbox for just about any set of government problems and level of Web skills. So, here’s my first pitch for a local government, all of which can be implemented at little cost and with little technical know-how:

1) Issue: Increasing the reach and buy-in for emergency readiness programs. Government 2.0 solution: Twitter EMS feed, with periodic manual updates. The handle would encourage users to enable SMS alerts, and would send out periodic tips and news, and supplement traditional sirens and radio emergency broadcasts. Model: @readydotgov Tool: Twitter.com

2) Issue: Desire to engage, but too many e-mails and phone calls for officials to manage effectively. Government 2.0 Solution: A social network for constituents to voice concerns, make suggestions and otherwise interact. Use of real names and zip codes discourages trolls and advances individual buy-in and protection of the community. Users can promote topics of most interest/urgency, and also answer each others’ concerns and questions. Officials step in for harder questions or problems requiring legislative/administrative action. Model: GovLoop.com Tool: Ning.com

3) Issue: Lack of citizen participation in law-making; policies heavily weighted in favor of professional interest groups and lobbyists. Government 2.0 Solution: Open-wiki lawmaking, with the community rewriting and voting on in-progress legislation, and any lobbyist input clearly marked. Example: No Blank Check Letter Tool: MixedInk.com

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