Saturday, November 8, 2008

Internet revolution that elected Obama could save Earth: Gore

8 Nov 2008 (AFP)

SAN FRANCISCO — Former US vice president Al Gore said an Internet revolution carrying Barack Obama to the White House should now focus its power on stopping Earth's climate crisis.

The one-time presidential contender turned environmental champion told Web 2.0 Summit goers in San Francisco Friday that technology has provided tools to save the planet while creating jobs and stimulating the crippled economy.

"The young people who have been inspired by Barack Obama's campaign and the movement that powered Barack Obama's campaign want a purpose," Gore said.

"One of the reasons we were all thrilled Tuesday night is it was pretty obvious this was a collectively intelligent decision."

The Internet's critical role in Democrat Obama's victory in the presidential race against Republican John McCain was a "great blow for victory" in addressing a "democracy crisis" stifling action against climate change, Gore said.

The Web has "revolutionized" nearly every aspect of running for US president and delivered an "electrifying redemption" of the founding national principle that all people are created equal, according to Gore.

"Some week," Gore said in greeting to an audience that leapt to its feet cheering. "It really was overwhelming. It couldn't have happened without the Internet."

Obama's victory, seen by many as a repudiation of policies of president George W. Bush, was validation of sorts for Gore, who lost to Bush in a controversial election outcome in 2000.

"Belated redemption is part of what we are celebrating this week," Gore said.

Since leaving politics Gore has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his relentless efforts to combat climate change and starred in an Academy Award-winning global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

He also founded Current TV, a cable television operation that taps into user-generated videos and news coverage fed to its website.

The one-time newspaper reporter said his reasons for creating Current included a belief in the need to "democratize television media."

"One of the main reasons why our political system has not been operating well until this election is the unhealthy influence of the television medium as it has operated," Gore said.

"The Internet comes in and democratizes information again and it is so exciting. All the vibrant forms of information are living on the Internet but TVs are still dampening it."

Current TV teamed with Twitter and Digg on election night to weave feeds from the popular Internet websites into its coverage of the vote.

The Web has the potential to "revolutionize almost every aspect" of running for US president, according to Gore. He believes that social activism made possible by people connecting and sharing information online is in its infancy.

"What happened in the election opens a full new range of possibilities and now is the time to really move swiftly to exploit these new possibilities," Gore said of turning the power of the Internet to cooling global warming.

Gore said Obama should announce a national goal of getting all US electric power from renewable and non-carbon energy within the next decade and spend the billions necessary to build an "electrinet" smart power grid.

"Web 2.0 has to have a purpose" Gore said.

"The purpose I would urge is to bring about a higher level of consciousness about our relationship to this planet and the imminent danger we face. We have everything we need to save it."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Maps, Online Communities and Games for the Environment

from the Reuters Environment blog by Juliana Rotich

Kenyan blogger Juliana Rotich is the editor of Green Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world, and will be a regular contributor. ReutersThomson is not responsible for the content - the views are the author’s alone.

Earlier this year, GV Environment listed the web2.0 tools for environment activism. Since then many more tools have been developed to help concerned citizens make decisions about their carbon footprint and engage with others using maps and games. This post will highlight some mashups, online communities, carbon footprint calculators and one online game.

More on the Reuters Environment blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blogging for nature

Rosslyn Beeby, The Canberra Times 10 Sep 08;

It's no surprise to learn evolutionary biologist Henry Gee, one of Britain's best known science authors and senior editor of the uber-respected international science journal Nature has a blog.

It's called The End of the Pier Show, and he calls it his "online scratching post". But what is surprising delightfully so is the revelation that the award-winning author of In Search of Deep Time and Jacob's Ladder: The History of the Human Genome has a bunch of rebellious chooks "that break into the house and go directly for the dog food". Photos of the chooks, Heidi the dog, Fred the cat and assorted guinea pigs are frequently used as a kind of visual punctuation on Gee's blog, illustrating his witty meanderings on such unrelated topics as the befuddled logic of creationists and mobile phone spam.

Gee's blog is ranked on as one of the most active, with new postings every other day and three posts last Friday, with Gee reflecting on the decline of science teaching, the folly of stating the bleeding obvious and why Aretha Franklin would make a better Republican vice-presidential candidate than Sarah Palin.

His blog is also popular, attracting a regular and wide circle of readers, but being a professional writer and editor is possibly an advantage when it comes to the discipline needed to keep a blog ticking over.

According to studies cited by Google, around 60 to 80 per cent of blogs are abandoned within a month of being created, and few are regularly updated. A report by Calson Analytics, an online independent analysis of digital technology trends, states that the average blog has the lifespan of a fruitfly. Another study, "The Blogging Iceberg" by the Perseus Development Corporation, differentiated between popular blogs (like Gee's) "which are often updated multiple times a day and which by definition have tens of thousands of daily readers" and those written for "nanoaudiences" of family, workmates and friends. The survey found blogs were updated "much less often than generally thought". Active blogs were updated, on average, every fortnight. Some 2.7million blogs were abandoned after two months, with fewer than 50,000 updated daily. Blog abandonment rates were not based on age, but those who gave up on blogging "tended to write posts that were only 58 per cent as long as those bloggers who continued to publish". The conclusion was that "those who enjoy writing stick with blogs longer".

But while those "dear cyber-diary" blogs written for nanoaudiences may be as ephemeral as fruitflies, there's a thriving cyber community linked by a love of the natural environment. Many of these blogs are linked to carnivals a blog event dedicated to a particular topic and, like a magazine or scientific journal, published weekly or monthly, with each "edition" cross-linked to other blog postings in the designated topic. Two of the most popular with cyber-naturalists are Circus of the Spineless ("a monthly celebration of insects, arachnids, molluscs, crustaceans, worms and most anything else that wiggles") and I and the Bird, "a bi-weekly showcase of the best bird writing on the web". The Nature Blog Network lists the best nature blogs on the web, based on a daily hit rate and the average number of page views. Top of the list is "Ugly Overload" a blog dedicated to "giving ugly animals their day in the sun", with scientifically knowledgeable postings about not-so-cute critters such as spiders, caterpillars, worms, Borneo bearded pigs and Pacific Spookfish. You can browse postings on a variety of categories, including vermin ("Chow Time for Roaches") and Oversized Uglies, which features snippets on elephant seals, hippos and genetically modified beef cattle.

The Nature Blog Network lists more than 400 environmental science blogs, and uses coloured arrows to indicate those climbing the charts (green) and those either plummeting in popularity (red) or heading for abandonment.

It's a brave new world of publishing where the passionate home-blogger frequently outscores those blogs attached to business, university or not-for-profit organisation websites.

Bottom of the heap on the network is BBC Wales Nature with a red arrow and no recent hits. Perhaps that's no wonder, with a five-line posting about glimpsing a flock of house martins and the news that otters have been voted Britain's favourite mammal. The Ocean Doctor blog has also taken a dive (written by the former vice-president of The Ocean Conservancy), ranked at 428 and on the way out of the charts with no hits. But Greg Laden, a biological anthropologist, whose most recent posting is about excavating a giant Buddha in Afghanistan, is the network's third most popular blog with a daily average of around 1800 readers. Here's a quick sample of some of the best nature blogs online.

The Nature of Robertson

Yes, that's the pretty little NSW town just up the road in the Southern Highlands where they filmed Babe. Denis Wilson is a keen naturalist, home gardener and photographer and his most recent postings include a photo essay on spring garden flowers, a visit to the town by Canadian water expert Maude Barlow, the landscape scars of the Bungonia limestone quarry, a tribute to National Wattle Day and a link to his other passion peonies.

Ben Cruachan

Not Scotland but a puddingstone mountain in East Gippsland, near Maffra. "My name is Duncan, and I'm an amateur naturalist and photographer. My present main interests are birds and native flora, but anything that walks, flies, wriggles or swims will attract my attention and the lens of my camera," writes the blogger (a member of the Sale Field Naturalists) who lovingly crafts this very popular site. Latest posts include spring wildflower perfumes, the two-tailed spider, sawfly larvae and a botanical photo essay of wildflowers encountered on a recent bushwalk.

A Snail's Eye View

Molluscs, stranded jellyfish and gastropod shells are among the postings that have earned this blog a spot just outside the top 50 on the Nature Blog Network. Snail is an anonymous blogger based in Melbourne, and is "writing a book (two, really, but only one involves a contract) and illustrating a series of taxonomic papers (for someone else)". Well worth a look for the site's bird photos, and last month's post about seeing the first grebes of the year.

Wrenai ssance Reflections

Now in its third year, this is the Michigan-based blog that organises the globally popular "I and the Bird" carnival. Stunning photo essays on American birds, links to other bird blogs around the world and a segment called Skywatch ("a communal sharing of photos of the sky') are some of the features. The website and blog "enable me to share my enthusiasm for backyard wildlife habitats as well as the joy that I've gotten from creating, improving, and living in one," writes the anonymous blogger behind this multi-tiered site.

Living the Scientific Life

Written by grrlscientist - a female evolutionary biologist this is the second - most popular blog on the Nature Blog Network list with more than 2000 readers. Her story will be a familiar one to many Australian scientists. Inspired by a love of birds combined with skills in molecular biology, she "pursued ornithology as my career". After finishing a degree in microbiology, a PhD in zoology, and a two-year postdoc, "reconstructing a molecular phylogeny of parrots of the South Pacific Islands ... I am still trying to find a job".


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Government engaging bloggers

Monkey observes: The Social Media Breakfast gets covered on the news yesterday. Read my blog post about SMB here. Interesting the writer is a recent NUS CNM graduate.

Come Blog About It
Govt agencies get help putting message out in cyberspace
Today, 20 Aug 2008

YOU want to create an online buzz about a government-sponsored commercial on the family. What do you do? Invite eight bloggers to preview it.

This happened two months ago at a special session organised by global public relations firm Ogilvy. The commercial depicting a single father struggling to raise his daughter eventually aired on June 21 — with the buzz the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) had hoped for.

Mr Richard Tan, MCYS director for communications and international relations, told Today the experience was new in his 20 years' involvement in policy implementation and "very exciting".

Not only did the bloggers come to understand how and why the commercial was made, Mr Tan read their "heartfelt" reactions online. Such sessions "give policymakers and implementers a greater feel of how people really see our initiatives", he said.

Two years after signalling the need to engage the Internet at his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revisited the topic on Sunday. Ahead of that, certain Government agencies have already been making the effort to court bloggers' views, while hoping they would put their message in cyberspace.

It is, to some extent, a gamble. These engagement events come with no strings attached — the invited bloggers are free to write what they want, or indeed, not write at all.

Sure, the event could have backfired. But blogger Ian Timothy, 27, who was at the preview, said: "While bloggers have the tendency to be overly critical, we also swing to the other extreme — when we really like something, we won't just stop at talking about it on our blogs, but also share with our friends through other channels."

Public relations, cyber-style

The National Heritage Board, meanwhile, has been hosting museum tours for bloggers and held a session last Saturday for 40 of them at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

In what it believes is a first among agencies here, the board is recruiting for an in-house "social media marketing" position, to cultivate relationships with active bloggers.

Said Mr Walter Lim, its director of corporate communications and industry promotion: "As social media gains prominence, we do have a very high proportion of people, especially teens, who spend time online. It is critical that organisations look at how we can leverage on this growth."

Such perspectives are a far cry from the early days when online views were sniffed at because of their mostly anonymous nature. Blogger EastCoastLife "applauds" the recent initiatives. The mother and education consultant, who asked not to be named, said: "It's better to work with the people, listen to them, than suppress their views."

Bloggers now appear to function as a "public relations arm" and the Government is recognising them as an important medium to reach the public, said Dr Linda Perry, a senior visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore's department of Communications and New Media.

Last year, the National Council Against Drug Abuse rolled out its anti-drug campaign on social sites such as Friendster and YouTube, and prominent Singapore-based bloggers were invited to blog about it.

They were given campaign information, and left to decide if – and what – they wanted to write. "It was a means to reach out to youths through their peers," said a spokeswoman from the Central Narcotics Bureau. Youths complimented this "ingenious approach", with at least one blogger, Darryl Kang, posting the "best campaign ads I've ever seen" on his blog and highligting the dangers of drug abuse.

For bloggers, what this all eventually might mean is a greater role in policy, said Ian Timothy. Instead of just blogging about what they see the Government doing, "we become active participants".

Press accreditation for bloggers?

Could such participation go a step further to include news reporting? Last month, the Malaysian Government issued press passes to about 10 online news sites such as Malaysiakini, but stopped short of handing them out to bloggers since blogs are often personal in nature.

Press passes would allow bloggers access to Government briefings or press conferences, for example, and the access to speak to officials at these events.

Said editor of The Online Citizen Choo Zheng Xi: "It's better to bring them in and allow them to see things from the government point of view, rather than lock them out and they criticise without understanding."

This could mean fewer misunderstandings and, while bloggers may still be critical, "it will be more constructive criticism", he added.

But one concern among commentators is credibility and accuracy – bloggers, after all, would largely not have journalistic training and their writing would not be subject to the editing process of the traditional media.

EastCoastLife said most bloggers at the preview of the MCYS commercial "weren't prepared and not active in responding. There were many questions to be asked, but they let slip the opportunity." Most bloggers, she felt, are not ready to be responsible.

Associate Professor Ang Peng Hwa of Nanyang Technological University's communications programme: "Unless they are prepared to have themselves held accountable (for their writing), I don't see how bloggers can equate themselves with professional media."

Member of Parliament (MP) Baey Yam Keng said blogsites that report on government issues should be regulated like traditional media, "to establish the same quality of objective and responsible reporting".

"I think it (bloggers reporting) could happen in the future, but looking at the state of the blogsphere now, I think the Government would not be comfortable," he said.

Still, fellow MP Lam Pin Min was "not averse" to credible bloggers covering press conferences as it would "be a positive step" towards harnessing blogs to put out information, "engage and solicit feedback from the public".

WEBTURN @ A blogger on the CNB's anti-drug campaign online:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mobile development rings true

Ken Banks, BBC News 14 Jul 08;

Elephants might not be able to make phone calls, but that doesn't stop them carrying mobiles. It doesn't stop crocodiles or seals, either.

Today from Kenya to South Africa, from Sweden to Greece, conservationists are using mobile networks to track a range of endangered species using GSM technology.

The advance of mobile technology has touched just about every aspect of the non-profit world, whether the focus is wildlife conservation or human health, and we've only just begun to scratch the surface.

It's easy to forget just how young the mobile industry really is.

The real beauty, of course, is that few people saw this coming.

Back in 2003, while I was researching for one of the early publications on the use of mobile phones in international conservation and development, there wasn't a huge amount to report other than largely scattered anecdotal evidence.

Back then, many believed that people in developing countries, particularly those living off a couple of dollars or so a day, would never be able to own a phone. How wrong they were.

Today, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of the population own a mobile, equating to in excess of 300 million people.

Many more have access to the technology through Shared Phones, Village Phones or family and friends.

Direct link

This explosive growth is largely down to a vibrant recycling market and the arrival of $20 phones, but is also down in part to the efforts of forward-thinking mobile manufacturers, some of whom spend increasing amounts of time trying to understand what people living at the so-called "bottom of the pyramid" might want from a phone.

Mobiles with flashlights are just one example of a product that can emerge from this brand of user-centric design.

Seeking to appeal to the needs of people lacking any kind of reliable lighting in their homes, some phones are now marketed with a strong emphasis on them being "much more than a phone". Innovation doesn't just happen in the West.

Local entrepreneurs are also getting in on the act, setting up shop wherever they see a need - which is almost everywhere - providing charging and repair services to help people keep their phones up and running for as long as possible.

The end result of all of this - the manufacturer's "formal" activities and this hugely impressive grassroots "informal" activity - means that more phones are getting into more and more hands, and staying there for longer.

Mobile phones are today providing a direct line of communication to farmers, doctors, patients, nurses, teachers and youth, or anyone else the non-profit community might seek to engage.

This is allowing patients to be sent reminders to take their medicine, or market prices to be sent to farmers, or to enable citizens to help monitor elections, or activists to report human rights abuses.

Text solution

The potential for mobiles in conservation and development work is huge, and evidence of their use is increasing. Many grassroots non-profits, however, still struggle to successfully implement them in their work.

A key problem is that many of the phones circulating through recycled markets are generally older, legacy handsets.

Thanks to the ingenuity and efficiency of the many mobile phone repair shops, it's not uncommon to find people happily using phones six or seven years old.

But providing data services of any kind, let alone a full web experience, is a bridge too far for many of these devices.

The solution is often the humble text message (SMS).

But in a world where the mobile phone is regularly touted as the device which will help close the digital divide, text messaging isn't necessarily the solution people had in mind.

While many developers concentrate on building smart applications for smart phones, grassroots non-profits with only SMS at their disposal are largely left behind.

Building applications for a target audience limited by their own unique blend of cultural, geographic and economic constraints can be a real challenge, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

For the past three years I've been working on my own solution, and it will come as no surprise that it's based on the text message.

Health check

FrontlineSMS is a messaging hub which allows non-profits in developing countries to manage bulk two-way communications using a mobile phone attached to a laptop computer.

When I built the first version in 2005, I was surprised to find that almost all bulk messaging software was web-based. Getting online on the edge of Kruger National Park, or in a remote Kenyan village, is a challenge to say the least.

Today, FrontlineSMS is being used by grassroots non-profits in over 40 countries for a wide range of activities, and was used in Nigeria to monitor the 2007 Presidential elections.

In Malawi, a student from Stanford University - armed with just 100 second-hand mobile phones and FrontlineSMS - is currently helping a rural hospital revolutionise healthcare for 250,000 people.

There the software is being used to connect St. Gabriel's Hospital in Namitete with 600 community health workers over 100 sq mile (260 sq km) area.

For the first time, drug adherence monitors are able to message the hospital, reporting how local patients are doing on their TB or HIV drug regimens.

Home-based care volunteers are sent texts with names of patients that need to be traced, and their condition reported.

Leaders from the "People Living with HIV and AIDS" support group use FrontlineSMS to communicate meeting times.

Volunteers can be messaged before the hospital's mobile testing and immunisation teams arrive in their village, so they can mobilise the community.

Essentially, FrontlineSMS has adopted the new role of coordinating a far-reaching community health network.

SMS has been the surprise package of the mobile industry but, despite its dominance, obvious limitations remain.

There may be better and smarter technologies around the corner, but for many grassroots non-profits looking to help people today it remains a hugely relevant and powerful tool.

Mobile phones may present us with the best opportunity yet to bridge the digital divide, but we mustn't lose sight of the bigger picture and must always remember that the technology comes last, not first.

Ken Banks is the Founder of, where he devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change throughout the developing world

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Social Networking for Green

From festivals to the blogosphere, 'connectors' keep green movement momentum strong
CSRwire 20 May 08;

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell points out the pivotal role of "connectors" in spreading ideas through social networking. Thankfully, the ideas of green and sustainability are catching like wildfire, in no small part due to social networking.

Take, for example, Co-op America's Green Festival, where an estimated 30,000 people gathered this past week in Chicago. A primary mission of the Festivals (which also happen in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC this year) is to provide "structured networking opportunities . . . throughout the conference so businesses can meet and build connections with other business owners to form synergies and grow together." In other words, people attend to rub elbows, a peculiarly effective method of generating momentum for the green movement.

Web-based networking represents a much less carbon-intensive method for spreading the word. JustMeans launched a mere half-year ago as a social media website for socially responsible individuals and businesses, with job offers providing the primary social lubricant. CraigsList meets FaceBook, for the green crowd. JustMeans establishes credibility by association, linking itself to a set of A-list founding members - including eight fellows of the prestigious Ashoka social entrepreneur organization founded by Bill Drayton. These organizations support JustMeans because it simultaneously demonstrates and stimulates the growth of socially and environmentally responsible enterprises.

Blogging similarly leverages the connective power of the Internet to virally spread ideas far and wide. No wonder environmental guru Bill McKibben is endorsing Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge to harness the blogosphere in raising awareness about tackling the climate crisis. Carbon offset firm Brighter Planet invites bloggers to write posts describing the need to reduce atmospheric carbon concentration from 383 parts per million to 350, explaining the scientific consensus that this reduction will likely avert triggering catastrophic climate feedback loops. The first 350 bloggers who download the 350 Challenge badge will receive 350 tons of carbon offsets from Brighter Planet.

Perhaps most importantly, social networking injects fun into the otherwise daunting task of saving the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Estonians scour country for junk in big clean up

David Mardiste, Reuters 3 May 08;

TURI, ESTONIA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Estonians scoured fields, streets, forests and riverbanks on Saturday to amass tonnes of rubbish in the Baltic state's first national clean-up.

Using Google maps from the Internet and Global Positioning technology to locate junk, people collected every kind of garbage from tractor batteries to plastic bottles and paint tins and ferried it, often in their own vehicles, to central dumps.

The campaign, which aimed to collect up to 10,000 tonnes of rubbish, was organized by Internet entrepreneurs.

"It is not really about the rubbish. It is about changing people's mind sets. Next year it might be something else," said Tiina Urm, spokeswoman for the Let's Do It! event.

Estonia inherited a mass of rubbish after it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but it has only added to the problem since.

"It has to be done, it can't stay here," said Mats Eek, 17, cleaning up a site in the middle of a forest near the central town of Turi, 100 km (62 miles) from capital city Tallinn.

He and the rest of his team worked to remove old metal, plastic, glass, bottles, and remains of farm medicals and household garbage hundred of meters from deep in a forest.

The organizers mapped and photographed illegal rubbish tips, then put them on the Internet using Google Earth as a platform.

They then used satellite photos and Global Positioning System (GSP) devices for accuracy in finding the clean up sites and asked people to register on the Internet to participate.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Slideshow tips

A while back, I gave a talk in NUS on environmental community groups. I put the slides on and Otterman gave some feedbacks and tips for better presentation.

1. Prepare your next talk really well.
2. Have a clear message, define sections.
3. Define each section with a question which you answer.
4. Keep transitions consistent per section.
5. Illustrate each section with a story which has a beg-mid-end.
6. Max four components for a one hour slot.
7. Target 45 min at most.
8. Design a story line and then build up slides.
9. Less patchwork (multiple image per slide).
10. Invest more time in preparation.
11. Design breaks, funny slide, question, knowledge base slide etc. E.g. American Idol used stand up comics to break up their intense show at regular intervals.

A guide for what to do when crafting new slides:

1. Decide on a question.
2. Think about the topic (it's usually in the back of my mind).
3. Craft story line.
4. Version 1.
5. Version 2 - better flow, consistent transitions, better photos etc.

Keep some short sequences as modules in a folder, it might be 4-5 well prepared slides which summarise the problem, process, data, solutions/progress. Easy to insert in any talk.

Thanks Otterman! These are most excellent pointers which I thought would be nice to share with others who may be doing slide presentations.

Green Global Voices: Web 2.0 Environmental Activism

from the reuters environment blog

Kenyan blogger Juliana Rotich is the editor of Green Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world, and will be a regular contributor to these pages. ReutersThomson is not responsible for the content — the views are the author’s alone. We welcome her first blog.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Internet and Beyond

Howard Lee, Today Online 21 Apr 08;

Smugly, my brother-in-law sent me a YouTube link of a BBC documentary, debunking the environmental doom-sayers. Dutifully, I went online. Yes, it was a critique on Al Gore's much-touted An Inconvenient Truth. But, because I am a self-proclaimed tree-hugger, I immediately Googled for the antithesis to this conspiracy theory.

But while a seed of doubt has been planted, I cling to my take on global warming. I am also aware that my brother-in-law is no lumberjack, but he has probably watched one too many episodes of Mythbusters and enjoys the scientific deconstruction of everything.

But what strikes me about our exchange is how the Internet has become the centre in our quest for knowledge, and that with a click of a mouse, it provides us with opposite views of a belief.

And that piece of reality is a far cry from Low Chee Kong's article "PM Lee on Internet lessons" (April 14), which suggests that the Internet today has been used to propagate information that does not give due consideration to the political motivations of those who disseminate them.

Such a preposition forwards two assumptions: First, that information available online is more skewed towards one particular ideal or agenda, compared to non-online media. And second, that the key problem of such a bias is that readers will believe whole-heartedly with the agenda proposed.

Superficially, the first assumption holds true. Writers are human, subject to their own biases, and online, short attention spans do not take kindly to dual analyses. A writer makes his point as quickly as possible, and usually that which is of the greatest concern to him. The Internet hosts a variety of views that are often one-sided in coverage. But, the Internet must be viewed in the larger scheme of things. It is full of opinions, some in direct contradiction to each other.

This brings us to the second assumption. We too often assume that the information we see online is taken in whole by its audience. In reality, readers often engage in a selective process of accepting or denying the information they consume. This is influenced by pre-conceived ideas of what the information is about, and the beliefs and concerns they have when reading it.

A case in point is the recent Malaysian elections. While it is easy to assume that Malaysiakini played a big part in turning votes against the ruling party, the truth is that voters saw a connection between what they experience in life and what was written online. No amount of virtual cajoling could have convinced them.

More often than not, online readers find an easy connection with what they read, or choose to search to read. In fact, with the diversity of opinions on the Internet, the bigger worry is not those who have a reason to seek out and find affirmation with information that they already believe in. Rather, it is those who have yet to decide which side they want to take that should concern us.

The writer is a PR practitioner.

Web guru targets malaria with social network site

John Joseph, Reuters 20 Apr 08;

LONDON (Reuters) - The British entrepreneur who sold a football Web site at the age of 17 for $40 million (20 million pounds) has switched his attention to help launch a social networking site on Sunday designed to fight malaria.

Tom Hadfield set up in his bedroom before selling it to U.S. sports network ESPN, but now hopes the power of sites such as Facebook can curb a disease that kills an estimated one million people a year, many of them in Africa.

"I believe in the power of friends telling friends telling friends," self-styled part-time student and full-time entrepreneur Hadfield told Reuters in an interview.

"Our dream is tens of thousands of people will use social networking tools to build a movement that eradicates malaria."

Now 25 and a fourth-year political science student at Harvard university, Hadfield came up with the idea for after a trip to Zambia last summer that gave him a close-up look at the mosquito-born disease.

"Travelling across Africa and seeing the devastation caused by malaria made me realise there was more to life than putting up soccer scores," said Hadfield.

"Everyone I met at an aid project making mosquito nets in Zambia had either lost a child to malaria or knew someone who had."

Hadfield then travelled to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where he met researchers working on malaria treatments and discovered that their efforts were being held back by a lack of resources.

"It's shocking that thousands of people are dying every day from a preventable disease," said Hadfield, who was honoured as Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2001.

"When I came back from Africa last summer, a lot of people asked me what they can do to help."

The site encourages people to donate $10 or more to help support seven different research projects in Tanzania, such as developing plants like lemongrass to repel mosquitoes. But Hadfield sees as more than a fundraising tool.

" increases the return on investment of donors by connecting them directly with researchers working on malaria prevention treatment," said Hadfield.

"It's about more than about giving money -- it's about creating connections. By encouraging individual participation and involvement, we will create international communities of common interest. This is the essence of social networking."

The seven projects were recommended by Tanzania's National Institute for Medical Research and once those have been funded, will look to support new schemes across developing countries.

Due to marry in November, Hadfield co-founded the site with health professors Peter A. Singer and Abdallah S. Daar at Canada's McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at University Health Network as well as the University of Toronto.

"We feel young African scientists have very good ideas that end up in the dustbin," said Singer. "This is about helping committed young researchers with good ideas to help themselves create a better future."

(Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Facebook used to mobilise to rescue Cyprus donkeys

Youths mobilise in name of tradition to rescue Cyprus donkeys
Haro Chakmakjian, Yahoo News 20 Apr 08;

It's the butt of jokes and the source of choice curses, but the donkey is an integral part of Mediterranean culture, and friends on Cyprus are working to protect one of the world's last wild colonies from extinction.

Using a Facebook group and email, hundreds of young Turkish Cypriots and a handful of Greek Cypriots have mobilised to "Save the Cyprus Donkey" after 10 of the rare brown animals were found shot dead at the end of March.

Full article on wildsingapore news

Amazon tribe enlists Google in battle with illegal loggers

Geoffrey Lean, The Independent 13 Apr 08;

You may know it as Google, but in bamboo-and-thatch roundhouses deep in the Amazon rainforest the iconic brand goes by another name. The Surui people, one of the most remote on Earth, call it ragogmakan – "messenger" – and they're banking on the search engine to save them and their ancestral lands from extinction.

The tribe – whose first contact with the modern world was less than 40 years ago – are replacing their bows and arrows with hi-tech gadgets in their battle for survival. They have already begun using satnav on their traditional trails through the trees. And Google Earth has just agreed to provide high-resolution satellite images of their forest home.

The initiative is the brainchild of their chief, Almir Narayamoga Surui, who is leading their struggle against illegal loggers besieging their territory, an isolated 600,000-acre green oasis in Rondonia, in the wild Brazilian west. Last year the 34-year-old Almir visited Google near San Francisco to ask it to help monitor the loggers' incursions. He said he also hoped to be able to use the internet firm to "alert the world". He added: "We call Google ragogmakan because we hope it will help us get our message out."

For countless centuries the nomadic people – who call themselves Paiter, meaning simply "we ourselves" – lived far from the outside world, until the official "first contact" with Brazilian authorities on 7 September 1969, national Independence Day. "The date that Brazil became independent was the day our independence ended," Almir says. "Our people were very, very scared when they first saw white men." A warrior people (Surui, the name bestowed on them by outsiders, means "enemy"), they decided to fight.

"We thought we could beat them with bows and arrows," says Almir. "But it didn't work." The Surui were reduced from 5,000 to just 250 people by massacres and diseases such as chicken pox, measles, tuberculosis and flu, to which they had no immunity. "The survivors were so weak from disease that they did not have the strength to bury their dead. So we went to Plan B, a peace plan." Did that work? "In terms of absolute survival, yes. Other tribes in Rondonia completely disappeared."

They got medical help, but lost half their land, and only got the remainder protected after a prominent Surui drew an arrow on a leading Brazilian senator in his office and demanded official demarcation. The land is still under constant attack. Almir says that 300 sawmills, employing 4,000 people, surround it and other Indian reserves in the area. Eleven local chiefs have been killed trying to protect their land, and he himself has a £50,000 price on his head.

He cottoned on to cyberspace when first trying out Google Earth and – like almost everyone – immediately searched for where he lived. He saw clear signs of logging, and realised he could enlist an eye in the sky.

With the help of the US-based Amazon Conservation Team he has been training his people in IT. They use satnav not to find their way around the jungle they know so well, but to enable them to record the co-ordinates of any logging they find so that they can report it. And Almir envisages the Surui with solar-powered laptops using Google to download information and to tell the world how their forest is much more valuable if left standing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Feed the poor 20 grains at a time

Megha Gupta, The New Paper 17 Apr 08;

AT a time when rice has been grabbing headlines with its sky-rocketing prices, a website called has been working overtime to donate the grain to the needy around the world.

And unlike other sites which just ask for donations, this website is gaining popularity by testing the user's vocabulary at the same time.

Visitors to the website are given a multiple-choice vocabulary test, and for every question they get right, 20 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Programme.

The money is provided by companies advertising on the website, and the UN food programme buys and distributes the rice.

The brainchild of US online fund-raising pioneer John Breen, FreeRice went online in October last year.

As of yesterday, visitors to the site had played their part in ensuring that over 26.5 billion grains of rice will be donated to the poor.

Going by figures from a BBC report, the website has generated enough rice to feed 50,000 people for nearly a month.

The head of the UN World Food Programme Josette Sheeran said in that report: 'FreeRice really hits home how the web can be harnessed to raise awareness and funds for the world's number one emergency.'

She said word of the game has spread with the help of bloggers and websites like Facebook and YouTube.

'The site is a viral marketing success story,' she said.

Student Felicia Goh, 19, found the link to the website on a Facebook group called 'feed a child with a click'.

'The group has these websites that donate food and money to the needy and you just need to click,' she told The New Paper.

However, what got her hooked was the 'innovative' concept of FreeRice.

'I've gone on such websites before. I went on this Breast Cancer awareness website where they provide a free mammogram for every click,' she said.


'But at FreeRice you don't just click, you actually do something.'

Felicia has played the game twice so far and has even put the link in one of the entries on her blog.

'Despite the fact that I'm English-educated, a lot of the words are not easy. But it's a good starting point - they can introduce other languages like Chinese and Malay in future,' she said.

Her friend, Lin Yu Ying, 19, accessed the link from her blog and has since played it five times.

'It has a very new and fresh concept,' she said. 'The fact that it's a game makes it even more interesting.'

Rice is a staple food in many parts of the world, including Singapore, and its rising price has become a concern in recent weeks.

'At least in Singapore the situation is not so bad and we can still afford our rice,' said Yu Ying.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The real deal about virtual networking

The real deal about virtual networking
Andy Ho, Straits Times 5 Apr 08;

THE Malaysian government acknowledges that its uninspired showing in the recent elections stemmed, in part, from its inattention to social media, like blogs and YouTube, which the opposition used effectively. Mr Barack Obama's presidential bid in the United States continues to ride high on that media too.

Compared to a decade ago, individual end-users are now actively collaborating to create content, share information and form communities using blogs, wikis and social networking sites (SNS). Dubbed Web 2.0, the Web is now more social.

Blogs are old hat while Wikipedia has made wikis well-known. SNS are slightly less familiar. Unlike search engines (dominated by Google) and video-sharing (by YouTube), different forms of SNS rule in different regions. The reason is that people won't move to a new SNS unless their existing networks of friends also follow, which would be unusual.

In the US, Facebook and MySpace are the most popular SNS. Friendster rules in Singapore and elsewhere in the region, except Thailand where Hi-5 is loved. Orkut dominates the Indian subcontinent, QQ is king in China, mixi in Japan and Cyworld in South Korea.

In Japan, 70 per cent of mixi users access it at least once every three days and stay logged on for at least four hours each time. Cyworld is an intimate part of daily life for 90 per cent of South Koreans aged between 20 and 30.

This technology has become entwined with real life because it allows friends to communicate using text, photo, voice, music and video. Instant messaging and blogging can be embedded in it too and a few SNS are supported on cellphones.

The popularity of SNS was first attributed to its enabling people to form and maintain ties. After all, the first to take off in the US, Friendster, was a dating service. But when its numbers grew too large for its servers to support, Friendster began losing members. Then it began imposing onerous conditions on its users, which affected indie rock bands the most.

So these musicians and their fans migrated over to MySpace, which began to grow exponentially in 2004. Unlike Friendster, MySpace gave users the freedom to personalise their profiles and pages. But it attracted little media attention until July 2005 when News Corporation acquired it for US$580 million (S$800 million).

Friendster did not keep its eye on the ball. An SNS must be user-centric. The Web 2.0 ethos insists on common folks being able to collaborate openly, freely and democratically to get things done.

Thus, a Stanford University law professor started a wiki recently to enable anonymous individuals to collaborate in writing a new law to clean up US election campaign financing. Collaborators will then try to leverage the wiki to collectively pressure their legislators to pass the law.

Be that as it may, the rhetoric of openness, democracy and 'wiki-government' tends to obscure the reality of serious business interests behind social media. Economic value lies in the data inherent in all our SNS profiles and interactions - the gossip and small talk as well as the serious discussions and disputations.

Business is busy mining that data to extract information about consumers that has largely evaded, till now, direct capture. Our mundane preferences, quotidian choices, trite wants and pet peeves - all can now be mined.

I think that is partly why Asia's richest tycoon Li Ka-shing has ponied up US$120 million for a stake in loss-making Facebook. Microsoft's stake is twice as large, yet neither it nor Mr Li has a seat on the board. Experts value in-the-red Facebook at US$15 billion and astute capitalists seem to agree.

Though it lost US$50 million last year, Facebook is hoping to make money from 'social ads' targeted at individuals based on what is known about them from the friends they keep and what they say about particular products and brands. Such information can make possible automated news feeds, based on people's likes and dislikes, to be channelled directly to them.

By contrast, some SNS in Asia are already profitable and, interestingly, not mainly from ads. This is a little-reported fact in the West, says Mr Benjamin Joffe who heads Plus Eight Star, a Beijing-based consultancy. He notes that QQ has 270 million active accounts in China while Cyworld has 20 million active users in Korea. By comparison, Facebook had 70 million users as of February this year.

Last year, QQ's profits were US$224 million, of which 13 per cent came from ads and 65 per cent from virtual goods. Cyworld made an estimated profit of US$100 million last year, mainly from virtual goods - virtual pets, cars, furniture, clothes or bling, casual games, and so on.

The Cyworld economy runs on a virtual currency that you buy with real money. Because virtual items cost about one US cent each, people tend to use their virtual money freely and the innumerable micro-transactions accumulate into huge profits. (Limited-edition virtual items cost more but you could buy them and 'flip' them for real monetary gains when demand for them goes up.)

If we understood why people spend real money on virtual goods, we would understand why SNS are so addictive and thus powerful. Buying virtual gifts, say, is really just buying a service. A real man actually buys and sends the virtual gift to a real woman he might fancy, who actually receives it. She can then preen and show it off to her network.

Studies show the same neurons fire in the brain and people experience the same pleasure whether real or virtual flowers are received.

But why would the real man spend real money on make-believe gifts? Here's why: He may not have 10 hours to spend trying to win virtual widgets in an online game hosted on the SNS that he can then gift to a woman. But he can afford $10 to buy them from the online shop.

Still, $10 for a figment of the imagination? A $10 cinema ticket might give the man two hours of viewing pleasure. But a $10 virtual bouquet does enable him to let a woman know he has the hots for her.

So people buy virtual gifts, people like receiving them and they do enjoy letting their friends know what good things are happening to them. Thus SNS may be popular not so much because one can make new friends through them but more because one can put one's social networks on public display.

Users are not so much networking with one another as they are showing off to one another - a pleasurable activity in itself. The emotional connectedness and social capital created in these virtual worlds can be real.

Social media will become a more taken-for-granted backdrop in our lives as Web 2.0 surrounds us at home, in the office and on the go with mobile broadband. The virtual ties they create will become as much a part of our lives as real-world friendships. After all, the ties may be virtual but the people so tied are real.

This being so, business - and politics - might want to scrutinise social media more closely.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Malaysia govt changes policy, reaches out to bloggers

23 March 2008 (AFP)

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's government has said it will reach out to bloggers, dropping threats of arrest in a major change of policy triggered by a shock election loss that has raised calls for reform.

The nation's mainstream media is mostly part-owned by parties in the ruling coalition, and what was seen as biased coverage in the run-up to last month's vote has boosted demand for alternative news sources including blogs.

After being hit with the worst results in its half-century history, including the loss of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition now says it wants to listen to dissenting voices.

Newly appointed Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said he is keen to meet bloggers.

"I am trying to build a bridge between the government and the people so that we can have a two-way dialogue -- and bloggers are a key part of this," he told AFP.

"I am planning on meeting them soon," he said.

But prominent bloggers have questioned the commitment of the government, which until recently had accused them of spreading lies and threatened severe punishment including detentions without trial.

"We welcome the government's move to engage bloggers but we are not in any hurry to meet them," said National Alliance of Bloggers president Ahiruddin Attan.

Ahiruddin, who met with Ahmad Shabery on Friday, said the offer of talks with bloggers needed to reflect the political will of the government.

"The success of the talks will depend on what kind of mandate he has from the Cabinet," he said of Cheek's proposal.

"He is going to be acting against the popular stand of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that bloggers are a nuisance."

Media analyst and blogger Nuraina Samad said bloggers have changed the face of Malaysian politics, becoming a vocal group that the government has to deal with.

"Many bloggers who turned to opposition politics before the last elections won the seats they contested," she told AFP.

"You look at the issues people were talking about before and during the elections -- many of them were raised by bloggers, and you did not see them raised even once in the mainstream media," she said.

"Despite this, the points raised became major issues among the people during the election campaign, with the government parties forced to address these issues that had been blacked out in their media." - AFP/ir

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Daedalus: Technological Triumps and Challenges

Latching onto the long tail of politics
Andy Ho, Straits Times 22 Mar 08;

IF 20 PER CENT of the electorate are making 80 per cent of the noise, how do politicians connect with the other 80 per cent?

In the old days, politicians relied on broadcasting through the dailies and the TV. Then came the Internet. But that turned out to be narrowcast, drawing the eyeballs of the already converted. So the 80 per cent still remained out of reach.

Until YouTube. Born in February 2005, the first YouTube election occurred, arguably, over a year later. In mid-August 2006, there was a YouTube video of Virginia's Republican Senator George Allen repeatedly calling a rival's campaign worker a macaca (a species of monkey). Seen by millions - in geekspeak, it went viral - the racial slur cost Mr Allen his Senate seat and, with it, his presidential aspirations.

The campaign operative who captured that mean-spirited moment was an Indian named S.R. Sidarth who wore a mullet. This hairstyle is short on the sides, front and top, with a long tail at the back.

Fast-forward to 2008: Senator Barack Obama may be riding the long tail of politics into the White House.

We know the 80/20 rule of thumb: For example, 20 per cent of workers do 80 per cent of the work. Also, 80 per cent of music or book sales derive from 20 per cent of all songs recorded or books penned - the smash hits or blockbusters. But this leaves 80 per cent - the long tail - of music or books not profitably marketed.

Until now, that is: On the Internet, one can build an e-business model to monetise the long tail and make it profitable - as Amazon and e-Bay have done.

Now map that idea onto politics. Of the US$32 million (S$44 million) Mr Obama raised in January, some US$28 million came from over a million small donors via the Internet. In fact, 40 per cent gave US$25 or less, with 10,000 donors giving just US$5 to US$10 each. Not only are campaign donors more likely to volunteer time and actually vote, but they are also likely to get family and friends involved as well.

But even an Obama could not have achieved such results before 2005. The Internet then consisted of largely isolated, static websites offering little more than text and podcasts. If you streamed video on these sites, the more visitors you had, the slower your video would run, with system crash a distinct possibility.

Now, given YouTube's acres of server farms, literally millions can watch at the same time. You can even 'paste' YouTube videos on your own site and they will run off YouTube's servers, not your ISP's, so a crash is unlikely. The opposition in Malaysia adopted this strategy in the country's recent general election with devastating effect.

Besides watching videos, you can also upload anything you shoot - using a camera phone, say - on to YouTube. You can comment on posted videos. Potentially, millions could see, hear or read your opinions.

People also tag their videos with search words and users can collaborate to group such tags together in a 'tag cloud'. In these clouds, the more important tags have bigger fonts, so there is a taxonomy of sorts ('folksonomy') to facilitate video searches.

You can also create a channel with others to upload videos on a specific subject. The three US presidential candidates have their own 'YouChoose' channel where they can talk to users through video clips while viewers can respond with their own videos. Channel subscribers are alerted when a new video with a specified tag appears.

It makes sense politically to study what issues young people are talking about on the homemade videos they post on YouTube. It pays to identify the videos that get the most views because they have been recommended to others by online users. By such monitoring, the Obama campaign has been able to make sure the message it gets out is one that the crowd can identify with.

This is marketing with a twist. A generation that has humbled the music industry with peer-to-peer music sharing wants to own the message that it receives. It prefers Mr Obama's 'yes we can' to Mrs Hillary Clinton's 'experience from day one', which seems to them to say 'only I can'.

The Obama campaign also uses sophisticated microtargeting tools to tailor campaign material to each voter in the long tail. A modelling software called Catalist can predict which issues matter most to a particular voter so he or she can be sent an individually tailored message.

The other main prong of the Obama long-tail strategy is a less well known wiki- based social software called Central Desktop. (By creating a collaborative social network, the wiki has, famously, enabled individuals to jointly develop Wikipedia.) Volunteers don't have to be geeks to use this egalitarian platform to collaboratively organise information.

After they have knocked on doors, they enter information into the system - which households are supporters, who will volunteer, and so on. This helped the Obama campaign take off quickly in large states like Ohio and Texas where it had no pre-existing infrastructure. Volunteers also use Central Desktop to organise and publicise offline events so people can network in the flesh too.

The biggest hurdle in politics is organising the like-minded. If social software can ride the long tail to organise spontaneous networks of interaction, a revolution in political organising would have been effected. Social software not only facilitates the exchange of video content but also helps people to keep in touch and coordinate their actions.

Facebook will soon launch an instant messaging service built into its user pages so friends can video web chat directly. This year high-definition YouTube will become available. Social networking will continue to improve and threaten traditional modes of political organisation, for it would allow for organising without organisations. You no longer need to get people together at the same time, same place.

But none of this means politics has now become easy. Mr Obama's young staffers pounded the streets, made contacts, built databases, and created a social network from the ground up. The door-to- door work still needs to be done.

The long tail is not a magical arena. Campaigns still need the soaring oratory of an Obama - or an Anwar Ibrahim - to fire up the base. They still need a charismatic leader to hold things together.

Even the long tail can't wag the dog at will.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Social networking bigger than porn

Intel VP wants ubiquitous Facebook 20 Mar 08;

“If you took all of the porn off the internet,” Dr Cox said in sitcom Scrubs, “you’d be left with one site called ‘Bring back the porn’”. But according to Intel’s senior vice president Arun Chandrasekhar, it is actually social networking now consuming the most bandwidth online.

Chandrasekhar was commenting on the rise of WiMax – the next generation wireless network – when he told the Von.x conference that porn was taking a back seat in comparison to social networking. And that it was the latter that was driving the demand for mobile platforms.

"[Social networking everywhere] is the next chase," Chandrasekhar added. "This race has started, and there's a tremendous amount to be done here."


Intel is aggressively pushing the WiMax technology, insisting that it will quickly spread in the way that its predecessor Wi-Fi has. Indeed Chandrasekhar told the conference that 37 per cent of laptops being built with its Intel Atom Centrino processor would be WiMax enabled.

The conference was also given a glimpse of Intel’s vision of the future, with a three-way fold up internet device codenamed ‘Magic’ which had a keyboard and screen one way and a media player the other.
By Patrick Goss

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is social networking a waste of time?

Bernhard Warner, Times Online 12 Mar 08;

There has been much fuss of late over the loss of productivity brought on by employees multi-tasking between actual work and social networking. One estimate puts the cost to British industry at £6.5 billion per annum in lost productivity and questionable bandwidth usage. Another survey estimates that Britain’s social media fanatics are spending as much as 12 hours per week on these sites, no doubt eating into valuable work time.

But what is the impact of this collective Facebook / MySpace / Bebo addiction on high school and university students, our bright future? A new survey this week by IT specialists Global Secure Systems, (the ones who took a look at the impact on businesses and arrived at the £6.5 billion figure), says students are also guilty of sneaking in a fair bit of social networking during the school day.

In their survey of 500 English school children between the ages of 13 and 17, 51 per cent confess to checking their social network profiles during lessons. Over a quarter admit their in-school daily social network fix exceeds over 30 minutes each day.

If this sounds surprising, you haven’t been to school lately. Laptop-toting school kids are the norm these days, as are Wifi-enabled campuses. And when the laptop is in the locker, there are net-enabled smart phones at the ready. Add to the equation the rocket-fast texting ability of your typical 16-year-old and you get an explosion of social networking opportunities at the most unlikely points in the school day.

No educator would knowingly allow such a distraction in their classroom, and yet it appears to be happening right under their noses. It’s hard enough getting the PlayStation generation to focus for even a half-hour on a lecture of, say, King John and the Magna Carta. Try competing with the latest lunchroom gossip being broadcasted to mobiles, Facebook and Twitter. The significance of establishing modern-day democracy pales in comparison.

Before you shake your head and mutter something starting with the phrase “In my day…”, admit it – how many of you have shirked off work on an important business project to tend to a personal email, text or, these days, a Facebook query? How many of you have done it today? How many of you are doing it now?

We adults might regard tidying up our profile, sending messages to friends or contacts, joining the odd (or oddball) group or participating in a movie knowledge quiz to be a harmless distraction, the kind of thing that keeps us sane during the workday. (While writing this column, I have been twice drawn to my Facebook profile to attend to small matters, but that’s it. No more for me today. Okay, maybe after lunch.) But teens are deadly serious about social networks. For them, failing to attend to these duties could end friendships, sink reputations and mean missed opportunities to climb the fickle and precarious social ladder of young adulthood. I say we ought to go easy on them if they are neglecting some of their responsibilities while they fuss around with their online persona.

As a university lecturer at John Cabot University in Rome I encourage my students, all in their early twenties, to embrace social media and every other Web 2.0 application out there. Yes, posting photos of you and your semi-clad friends boozing it up late at night could sink your chances with a prospective employer, who will no doubt be snooping around for this very type of incriminating evidence. But the good far outweighs the bad. I encourage the students to be creative, to promote our online student newspaper, which just over a year from launch is pulling in steadily rising traffic. No doubt all the blog, Facebook and MySpace mentions are helping. I’ve had students who use social networking sites to build and promote projects on fighting poverty and eradicating hunger, organising music gigs, art and photo exhibitions, plus coordinating meet-ups for political rallies.

I admire the growing number of young students who dedicate hours to designing complicated widgets and applications too. Yes, they’re probably neglecting their history paper to complete it, but the end product is a far more valuable lesson learned in creativity, courage and computer coding. When I look at all the creativity, the collaboration and the activism being generated in these networks, I am hopeful for the future. Perhaps it is we educators who need to learn how to harness this power into our everyday classroom lessons.

Bernhard Warner, a freelance journalist and media consultant, writes about technology, the internet and media industries.

950 Million Users will be Accessing Social Networking Sites via Mobile Devices by 2012

Wireless Design & Development Asia
Business News & Technology News, 12 Mar 2008

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, Consultant, and Leslie Arathoon, VP of Research, Pyramid Research

Today's active social networking members represent more than one-third of the total worldwide Internet user base, for a figure of 530 million members worldwide.

Looking ahead, Pyramid Research expects social networking sites (SNSs) to gain prominence as they add increased functionality and more people are introduced to them by friends and acquaintances.

As social networking develops as an industry, mobility will play a vital role in shaping the future. There are strong forces bringing SNSs and mobility together, including the industrywide trend toward presence and personalization. The ability of members to access a social networking site from anywhere will enhance the utility of the SNS and thus boost the amount of advertising revenue that it can generate.

For mobile operators, SNS could greatly increase mobile data usage, which has so far been lackluster in most markets, and open the door to new revenue streams from subscription fees or advertising.

To that end, a broad range of handset suppliers, network equipment providers and software developers have been making progress in addressing technical obstacles to mobile social networking—such as the need for bandwidth, devices and browsers.

Pyramid Research believes that the opportunity for mobile social networking is rich; key technical issues are being addressed, and both of the main stakeholder groups are motivated toward a joint future—as are consumers.

Pyramid Research expects 2008 to be another building year, with operators and SNSs continuing to confront technical, commercial and market challenges. By 2009 and 2010, however, mobile social networking should become increasingly popular—with uptake seen not just in the US market, but globally.

Hence, we forecast 300 million mobile social networking users by 2010, representing 7 percent of worldwide mobile subscribers. By 2012, we expect roughly 18 percent of mobile users, the equivalent of 950 million users, worldwide to be accessing at least one social networking site via their mobile device.

Worldwide mobile social networking users, 2006-2012

With these subscriber adoption figures in mind, Pyramid Research has analyzed the revenue opportunity for mobile operators engaged in social networking services. Although most industry observers speak of the online advertising opportunity as the "holy grail,"

Pyramid Research's analysis found that in fact it is the increase of mobile data usage that will contribute the most to operator financials. Indeed, if the offerings available to subscribers are compelling enough to justify high data usage—flat-rate or pay-as-you-go—the rewards for operators could be significant.

Yet despite the clear financial rewards of mobile social networking, there is risk that operators will be disintermediated or cut off from their customers through flat-rate Internet access or, more broadly, the rise of asynchronous communications over synchronous channels.

Pyramid Research believes this future can be avoided so long as mobile operators keep in mind a vital imperative as they move forward with their strategies: to continue to delight their customers by enhancing their everyday experiences.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Next Big Ideas in Conservation: Harnessing Information Technology

By Jonathan Hoekstra

I recently ventured into the heart of Borneo to experience the sights and sounds of some of the world’s oldest and wildest tropical rainforests.

One day, while surveying the green sea of unbroken forests from a hilltop vantage point, something unexpected caught my ear — another hiker was talking on a cell phone! At the time, I felt annoyed that my wilderness experience could be interrupted by that technological icon of city life.

But the penetration of cell phones into the most remote parts of the world is not necessarily a bad thing…for conservation.
Info Tech Goes Grass Roots

Cell phones, computers and the Internet have revolutionized communications. You can now talk to almost anyone at anytime from anywhere in the world.

These information technologies have also accelerated economic globalization and the spread of consumerism. Now, some innovators are harnessing them as a force for bottom-up social change:

full article with links on the Nature Conservacy wesbite

Thursday, March 6, 2008

YouTube most popular networking site

Jemima Kiss, 5 Mar 08;

YouTube is now the most popular social networking website in the UK, overtaking the user-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia with 10.4 million unique users during January.

The Google-owned video-sharing site saw a 56% increase in traffic from January the previous year, cementing the popularity of online video among web users, according to newly released Nielsen Online figures.

Nielsen Online estimates that nearly two-thirds of UK web users - or 20.8 million people - visited at least one of the top 10 social networking sites.

Wikipedia had 9.6 million unique users during January, while Facebook recorded 8.5 million.

Blogger, the DIY blogging service also owned by Google, had 5.1 million users, ahead of social networking sites MySpace, at 5.02 million and Bebo at 4.09 million users.

Facebook saw by far the biggest year-on-year growth, of 712% since January 2007; and Slide, the photo display application, saw its user base increase by 207% to 3.3 million over the same period.

A closer look at the fastest-growing services showed video tools accounting for five of the top 10 names, with brands including Veoh, Video Jug and Tudou all showing triple-figure growth.

"The fact that almost two-thirds of Britons online visited at least one of the top social media sites shows it isn't a niche part of the internet but is now the backbone supporting its growth," said Alex Burmaster, Nielsen Online's web analyst.

"Whilst the majority of the most popular social media sites are the networks, most of the fastest growing are video sites, which points to video being the biggest star of the 2008 social media scene."

Perfspot, the Arizona-based social network, topped the list of rising UK social media stars with growth narrowly ahead - year on year from January last year - of Facebook at 713%, although the site still had just 260,000 UK users as of January.

Nielsen Online measures data by using a panel of web users on connections at home and work locations, but does not include education or public web access, such as web cafes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Forget Facebook, MySpace or You Tube: here comes connect2earth

A new platform to start changing the world
WWF website 4 Mar 08

Forget Facebook, MySpace or You Tube: here comes connect2earth, a new online community where young people can upload videos, pictures and comments about the environment.

On, users and visitors will be able to write, speak, illustrate and video present their concerns on subjects important to them, and share environmental ideas and solutions.

Each month, users will vote for a winner who will receive a Nokia mobile phone.

“Connect2earth is a truly global space for young people to connect, share, express their concerns and hopes about the environment online – and win some prizes in the process”, said James Leape, Director General of WWF International.

“This new community allows them to tell the world why they care about the environment and why it should be protected.”

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said: “We live on an amazing planet – we need to protect it. We want to encourage young people to be involved in environmental issues and take action.”

A panel of prominent conservationists will elect an overall winner who will get the chance to participate in the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona next October.

She or he will have the opportunity to present some ideas directly to leaders from around the world.

“Young people feel increasingly strongly about protecting the environment because, for them, it represents their future”, said Kirsi Sormunen, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Nokia.

And how do you connect to earth through connect2earth? The site, not surprisingly, is particularly suited to uploading short films, photos and comments from mobile phones.

Power of blogging helping Masai Mara wildlife

Mike Pflanz in the Masai Mara, The Telegraph 3 Mar 08;

Less than five minutes after the poacher was arrested in a remote corner of a Kenyan game park, hundreds of animal-lovers across the world heard the urgent beep of a new text message on their mobiles.

Rangers had radioed the news from the poacher's hideout in a thicket of wild olive trees in the Masai Mara to the conservancy headquarters 15 miles away.
There, Joseph Kimojino, who had never used a computer before November, fired up his laptop and sent out a bulletin via Twitter, a social networking website which sends updates to subscribers by text message.

Within an hour, the Masai ranger updated his blog and uploaded photos of the poacher and his illegal haul of zebra and waterbuck meat to Flickr, an image-sharing website.

Mr Kimojino, 44, is at the forefront of a technological revolution using satellite internet connections set up deep in the bush to link armchair conservationists in the West with field workers on the frontline of wildlife protection. Mr Kimojino will be writing a blog, starting this week on Telegraph Earth, from the Masai Mara.

There is Felix Lankester's from a chimpanzee orphanage in Cameroon, Didi and Innocent's about gorilla protection in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There are blogs on orangutans in Indonesia, snub-nosed monkeys in Vietnam, wild dogs in Zimbabwe and blue-fronted Amazon parrots in Brazil.

All are hosted by Wildlife Direct, a British-registered charity set up by Richard Leakey, Kenya's leading paleontologist and the former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The idea is simple. Harness the soaring popularity of blogging and social networking sites to boost the profile of smaller conservation groups and raise much-needed money in the process.

Surfers who log on to Mr Kimojino's blog ( see his urgent appeal - tourists have stopped coming to the Masai Mara because of Kenya's post election violence.

Without the money they pay in gate fees for Mara Conservancy, the group managing the west of the reserve, Mr Kimojino and his 39 fellow rangers must stop anti-poaching patrols.

Until the tourists return, they need £25,000 a month for salaries, fuel, food and bonuses for catching the poachers.

To Mara Conservancy, it is a huge sum. But it is achievable if enough people (625, to be precise) hit the 'donate now' button on the website and each pledge the average £40 which Wildlife Direct receives from supporters.

That money is then funnelled straight to the conservationists on the ground, less only bank fees.

Wildlife Direct does not take a percentage. Donors including the European Union fund its administration costs, its staff salaries, the computers and the satellite connections.

"This is a completely new thing to me after 20 years as a ranger, and I have been so surprised," said Mr Kimojino, using a single index finger to slowly tap a response to a comment on his blog.

Before he began training late in November, he had never turned on a computer and said he found learning to control the mouse the 'hardest part'.

Now, he says, "Blogging is one of the best things about my job.

"It makes me realise that there are many people in the world who want to know about what we are doing for Kenya's animals, who want to help us."

He is already receiving up to 100 hits a day, having launched the blog in January.

"It is a totally new idea for conservation in terms of a method of raising funds and raising awareness of our work," said Brian Heath, chief executive officer of Mara Conservancy.

"It's been pretty amazing how quickly Joseph has become comfortable with the blogging, and it we hope he can serve as a model here in Kenya of getting out information, and raising money."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Young Singaporeans are not communicating with each other, not even on the Internet

sorry, what did you just say?
Ravi Veloo, Today Online 1 Mar 08;

Why do they call it a community, just because a stranger or two drops a comment in the response box?

THE sexy young thing in the very short denim skirt spread herself across her boyfriend's long legs as they sat silently on the MRT train zipping to Bedok that night.

They didn't talk. Not that they were angry at each other. She was after all slumped across his thighs. Then at the station before Bedok, she got up, no goodbye or farewell kiss, and simply walked away.

She whipped out her handphone and so did he immediately as she minced to the long queue for the escalator, joining those ideologically opposed to using the stairs to go down. He was texting with speed.

Ah, I thought. So this is how they communicate.

They have private conversations by SMS, the way our colleagues these days use office email to talk to the person sitting right next to them.

But what's this? He was still texting and receiving, but she had put her phone to her ear to make a call. So they were still not talking to each other!

What is it with our new young? So young and already so bored with each other? You may say, well, they were texting someone. So they were talking to someone, if not each other.

But how meaningful a conversation can you have on SMS? I have seen groups of teenaged schoolgirls in Burger King, up to four at a time, all on the phone at the same time, texting someone else.

Go to any McCafe and you'll see young couples or groups like in the old days. What's new is this: They, too, aren't talking to each other.

I saw one couple in their 20s, she was actually knitting while he was surfing the Net. Another young couple, he was reading the newspaper! They were all like some old couples who had run out of fresh things to say.

I saw another group of four, two boys and two girls, early 20s. They were each reading a comic book in Chinese.

In a coffee hangout at the Singapore Management University campus on a Saturday afternoon, a group of two girls and three guys, maybe students at that university, maybe not: One guy was reading a magazine throughout, and said nothing. Got up only to find another rag to read.

Never mind how rude it was, that just makes you wonder.

Even Brad Pitt must make some effort to entertain and engage Angelina Jolie. Why were these girls letting a pock-marked guy treat them like wallpaper?

The notable economist Paul Krugman wrote last week that he thought communism fell not because it was flawed but because people had lost faith in it. Capitalism, he pointed out, is a system that works even if you don't believe in it because it feeds on selfishness, not selflessness.

Maybe our young are what we reap from the seeded culture of crass capitalism, which is particularly intense in Singapore where the safest passion to pursue is the dollar.

Driven essentially by self-interest, our young give true meaning to the word iPod — yes, they are one.

Is it any wonder that even on the Internet, most of our young are blogging, basically keeping a public diary, rather than engaging each other in forums in an alternative space?

Even on the Net, the young are just talking to the wall. Why do they call it a community, just because a stranger or two drops a comment in the response box?

Perhaps larger countries can afford this. But a small country, dependent on human resources, had better find a way to encourage more talk, so we can have more informed opinions, so we can have more ideas and maybe more leaders in more fields. All meaningful acts begin with an opinion.

Where shall we start? Well, maybe not with the young. They don't seem to have anything to say.

The writer runs The Media Campus, a media training outfit for newsmakers and journalists. He can be reached at

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rheingold speaks at TED 2008

"Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action -- and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group. As he points out, humans have been banding together to work collectively since our days of hunting mastodons." - abstract from TED 2008

A background introduction of the evolution of media and communication, together with collective social action. I like the point about how concepts of fairness is influenced by social institutions and is not innate. This is related to collaboration and how prisoner dilemmas can be escaped through collective action. Ideas of symbiosis are possible in human institutions. We just need the required design principles.

"A certain kind of sharing can be in [our] self-interest." Not altruism but for enriching themselves to practice sharing and cooperation, i.e. open-source

One of the interesting examples is ThinkCycle which have developing countries post up problems for design students in developed countries to solve and with successful results.

He is calling for somewhat a change of perspective by understanding more from what we can achieve through cooperation. Yet another suggestion for paradigm shift. I am definitely going to start compiling a list of alternative paradigms to consider possible merits. What will be the next dominant paradigm in our world?

Mandatory First Post

Last week, the ramblinglibrarian asked on the Media Socialist group about suggestions for a blogging workshop for kids that he was invited to conduct.

The resultant correspondence led me to the realization of this blog. Having been thinking academically about social media and environmental education as a user, practitioner and teacher, this blog will serve to record and share with others thoughts and practicalities.

I am definitely no expert but I am definitely more inclined towards a group blog model. In general the structure would be to have a repository of reflections as well as links to other useful articles and resources.