Do We Underestimate the Universal Reach of the Social Web?

“The new Revolution aims essentially at a change in directive ideas…. It [is] a choice between so carrying on and so organising the process of change in our affairs as to produce a new world order, or suffering an entire and perhaps irreparable social collapse.” – H. G. Wells, The New World Order (1940)

tree media revolution internet social web
Photo by Giovanni Orlando shared via Creative Commons license.

I view recent developments in technology and media (roughly 1995 – 2005) as nothing short of revolutionary. The incredible pace of technological advancement and increased access to new media and communication tools during those ten years was like nothing we’ve seen in such a short time span and nothing we might see again for generations. From dial-up to WiMax, the browser-less web to OSx and Google Chrome, from buddy chat to Twitter, and low quality streaming audio to YouTube and video chat. Not to mention, TVs and monitors are now flat and gigantic.

We can have it all now and slowly the big picture is coming together, new tools and modes of communication are growing more comfortable for greater proportions of the global population. In many ways we’ve already leapfrogged adoption of previous generations’ groundbreaking tech. For example, many Native American reservations in the southwest were NEVER wired for telephones but now are not only on the mobile grid but have hi-speed WiFi setups such as the Tribal Digital Village.

Even early adopters of social tools on the web still find themselves in a sort of honeymoon phase — so excited to have the new tools yet not ready to get practical with them and in other cases hesitant to engage peers and family members who may be slower to pick up on new tech. Even the media is waiting for the proverbial “other shoe” to drop, slipping off the heels of privacy issues (Facebook), feature flaws (Apple), or media companies getting in the way of foreign policy (Google).

We’re nowhere near seeing the potential of the internet as a communication device and as a powerful social tool.

But I cringe a tiny bit when I see one of my mentors and colleagues minimizing the scope of social media’s — and the web’s global reach. That was my first reaction to reading the beginning of Geoff Livingston‘s next book, currently titled The Fifth Estate. Now, I know Geoff is not looking to repeat what he already covered in Now is Gone but I hope to see broader strokes applied from a global perspective.

For many Americans, the rise of social media is tied to a political shakeout due to blogger backlash or an embarrassing clip of a candidate memorialized on YouTube. Geoff points to the election of Jim Webb as Virginia senator in 2006, which happened after a pivotal YouTube video led to a destructive backlash against the incumbent George Allen — the infamous “‘Macaca’ moment.”

I had a similar awakening through the rapid rise and fall of the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Dean’s campaign was the first test of the Netroots, in which bloggers on the progressive left, behind the brilliance of political strategist Joe Trippi, rallied behind Dean and turning him into a formidable candidate in a battle that was largely viewed as Kerry vs. Gore. Influencers in the blogosphere got on board, spread the word, and suddenly the people had their candidate, in spite of what the mainstream media was calling a two-man race.

But Dean’s undoing was not unlike Allen’s — and after a strong showing in the Iowa caucus, shot himself in the foot with the “Dean Scream.” There may not have been YouTube (or even Twitter and Facebook) at the time, however, the Dean Scream shot around the world, gaining “cult-like status on the web” thanks to social media, blog posts, and audio remixes.

For people in many countries, however, the rise of these new social devices and online tools have been marked more by mobile phones than online social media platforms — at least to this point. News and photos from the scene of the July 2005 London bombings were spread via SMS messages from people on the trains to their loved ones and photos uploaded directly to Flickr and other photo sharing sites like moblog.co.uk.

But it’s not just how social media has influenced how news is reported and affected the way political campaigns are managed. It’s about how these revolutionary technlogies enable a freer flow of information between agents of social change and primary points for action.

In 2003, journalists first got word of the severity of the SARS epidemic thanks to an SMS message from medical sources in China (read about this and more in Dan Gillmor‘s We the Media). Had it not been for these SMS messages and the ensuing global communications on listservs among medical professionals scrambling for a vaccine, the global scale of SARS could have been much worse — the Chinese media and government certainly weren’t letting on about it.

Personally I don’t like the term Fourth Estate and I certainly don’t think that our newly enhanced and increasingly social media need the badge of being a Fifth Estate — it’s all the same — and it seems to me that media in general can do a much better job of holding the government in check. Ironically (or maybe not) the term Fourth Estate refers to the press as a fourth branch of British parliament (or the three French states-general, as Wikipedia would have it).

Bollocks, I say! More branches does not make the tree grow taller, faster. Let’s take advantage of these revolutionary times, adapt and consolidate for the greater good and, like Wells wrote, save society from collapse and bring hopefulness to future generations.

Part 2 in an series of posts and cross-published comments inspired by friends’ recent blog posts. This one inspired by “Welcome to the Fifth Estate,” by Geoff Livingston.

New OECD report on “The future of news and the Internet”

The death of the newspaper is greatly exaggerated — generally speaking from the point of view of the OECD. Aside from in the U.S., the decline in revenues is on par with the general financial decline in recent years.

Figure 1. Estimated newspaper publishing market decline in OECD countries, 2007-2009 (in per cent)

…[A] new OECD report looking at “The Future of News and the Internet”. It contains new data and analysis on the global newspaper industry and the challenges presented by the Internet. Its main message is that “large country-by-country and title-by-title differences and the data currently do not lend themselves to make the case for “the death of the newspaper”, in particular if non-OECD countries and potential positive effects of the economic recovery are taken into account.” The full report, including data and charts, is available at http://www.oecd.org/document/48/0,3343,en_2649_34223_45449136_1_1_1_1,00.html

After very profitable years, newspaper publishers in most OECD countries face declining advertising revenues, titles and circulation. The economic crisis has amplified this downward development.

About 20 out of 30 OECD countries face declining newspaper readership, with significant decreases in some OECD countries. Newspaper readership is usually lower among younger people who tend to attribute less importance to print media. In OECD countries, the general, regional and local press have been hardest hit and 2009 was expected to be the worst year for OECD newspapers, with the largest declines in the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Canada, and Spain (but much a much smaller impact on countries such as Austria, Australia (See above).

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Apple iPhone Finally Gets Official $5 Video App

Somehow Steve Jobs always makes it a big deal when he announces something that for some reason or another his company had been holding back on for years. This time, I’d be surprised if many journalists and consumers alike bite on today’s Apple iPhone 4 announcements from WWDC.

So yeah, you get to record video — on Apple’s iMovie software which will run you $4.99. It’s about time. recording video has been a native function of nearly all semi-smart and even some stupid-phones since before the original iPhone was announced in 2007. But somehow, this is a revolution.

The only thing relevant to me — which I demonstrate in the video below (shot and livestreamed via the Qik app on the HTC Evo) — is that AT&T is so desperate to lock customers up for another 2 years that it is offering nearly everyone new contracts on the spot (meaning new, subsidized phones). Dial *639# from your phone wait a couple minutes and you’ll likely get the same plea message from AT&T:

As a valued customer we can offer you an upgrade with a new 2-yr commitment and an $18 upgrade fee.

Yes, I can re-up as well, despite never having owned an iPhone — now if only AT&T has a killer Android phone I might consider extending my contract. Of course — I used to take advantage of this shortcut-to-upgrade for $18 quite frequently, first when it was freely allowed as an employee of USC and later when I worked for WMG. Although Sprint’s service has been very good in the few days that I’ve been testing the Evo — much better than 5 years ago when I tested phones from all carriers and found that not one could make calls from my house. Sprint is also matching the corporate discount I received for years from AT&T.

Anyway, as I typically say about overly dramatic Apple releases: WHATEVER. But there is one more thing: FaceTime?!? WHATEVER 😉 Get yours June 24th. Or get a phone that runs Android, don’t be restricted by Apple, impress your friends, and be happy.


 

Mayor Bloomberg Pitches NYC at TechCrunch Disrupt

michael bloomberg mayor techcrunch disrupt new york city

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg just addressed the 1,000+ attendees of TechCrunch Disrupt. Reinforcing his new media acumen, he leads by rattling off all of the updates and check-ins he did on the way over here. “I even put a classified on Craigslist,” he added, “the Cleveland Craigslist” – trying to get LeBron to come to New York (when he managed to compare King James to Arrington taking TechCrunch Disrupt to New York — several in the press section nearly gagged). Bloomberg, of course, was a pioneer in new media and fits right in in this room, have founded Bloomberg L.P. after being fired from Salomon Brothers in the early ’80s.

Bloomberg then goes into pitch mode. NYC needs smart people, developers, entrepreneurs, and engineers apparently. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from New York or New Jersey or New Delhi, if you have an idea or an app, New York City is the place for you. “This is the city where it’s happening….”

Erick Schonfeld: “You know there’s a friendly rivalry between Silicon Valley and the New York tech scene…” “Who says it’s friendly?” joked Bloomberg.

Bloomberg alludes to Bloomberg’s acquisition (resuscitation) of BusinessWeek saying that they lost their way. “You don’t know what is going to be important to you tomorrow” — you need editors, real, trained journalists. But is the mayor out of touch? He still believes most people in the room read the newspaper as delivered each morning. It’s a good thing he’s the mayor and not physically running media operations at his company.

Kickstarter: Crowdsourced Funding for Ideas that Matter

I finally made my first Kickstarter pledge today – toward an Invisible Children film project including Yeasayer and Polyphonic Spree.

Kickstarter is a new website and funding platform for “artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, explorers….” Started by entrepreneurial blogger and developer Andy Baio, Kickstarter invites anyone to submit a project for funding and/or to fund a project with little risk. [CORRECTION: Baio is the CTO. Kickstarter was started by CEO Perry Chen, along with cofounders Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler.] You invest in the final product which reaps rewards. Should the project not reach its funding goal, your money is returned, so as not to be wasted on something that runs out of fuel halfway through. Baio also created one of the infamously useful-before-Yahoo-bought-it online apps – Upcoming.org.

Kickstarter is a brilliant concept because it feeds on the positivity and karma of giving, sharing, and creating on the web. But it’s not just the ethos — it’s the stories. And the stories behind the stories. Take the story of Greg Bayne an aspiring filmmaker who — with the help of a final push — got the funding to succeed (+ an extra 2 grand) in his goal of raising funds for a documentary on legendary MMA fighter Jens Pulver. It’s addicting enough to follow these projects and see if they get funded or not — there is only 48 hours left to raise another $10k for the Invisible Children project.

UPDATE 3/10: The project was fully funded with ten hours to spare.

But that’s only the beginning — it’s a gift that keeps giving and giving back, through blog updates from those who are funded and in many cases, a final product such as a film, or a DIY mixed-use space, or a book of war comics.

Have a look for yourself and see how many intriguing projects you come across. Or if you start your own, let me know. I want in!