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