Mumbai via social media

Though I spent Thanksgiving on a plane of existence where the concept of “news” just didn’t make sense, I did occasionally check in with my own slice of Twitter, and saw an interesting mashup of I’m-too-stuffed-to-live posts and ongoing Mumbai coverage and commentary. The same loose coalition that supported online repsonses to the Southeast Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina quickly set up “Mumbai Help” to coordinate information, including helpful phone numbers an information about the injured and deceased. CNN has an article about the social media response, noting that “social media sites like Twitter were inundated with a huge volume of messages.” The quote a Twitter user who said “Mumbai is not a city under attack as much as it is a social media experiment in action.” CNN notes a down side to the social media response, noting that “a vast number of the posts on Twitter amounted to unsubstantiated rumors and wild inaccuracies.”

As blogger Tim Mallon put it, “I started to see and (sic) ugly side to Twitter, far from being a crowd-sourced version of the news it was actually an incoherent, rumour-fueled mob operating in a mad echo chamber of tweets, re-tweets and re-re-tweets.

“During the hour or so I followed on Twitter there were wildly differing estimates of the numbers killed and injured – ranging up to 1,000.”

What is clear that although Twitter remains a useful tool for mobilizing efforts and gaining eyewitness accounts during a disaster, the sourcing of most of the news cannot be trusted.

In the next paragraph, CNN notes that most tweets “were sourced from mainstream media.”

On the other hand, I see a tweet from Mrinal Wadhwa that says “mainstream Indian media has been absolutely Irresposible during this whole episode.” I suspect that in some locales the best information available was crowdsourced, mostly via Twitter. You can see for yourself – relevant Twitter posts have the #mumbai hashtag and are viewable via Twitter search. (While I wrote that last sentence, there were 18 new posts.)

Hossein Derakshan arrested?

According to Global Voices Advocacy, the active and highly visible Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan (aka Hoder) has been arrested in Tehran and “is being investigated on suspicion of espionage for the state of Israel.” No posts on Hoder’s blog since October. Hoder’s been active in shining a light on other similar arrests. GV notes that the arrest hasn’t been confirmed by other news sources.


In my last post, I mentioned that I was one of a group of online community professionals who were attempting to help the Kerry campaign in 2004. Sanford Dickert, who brought us together, has posted his own account.

The team began to work on the plan – and, through the hard work of the people on the team, we had the initial draft that Jock shows on the Greater Democracy post by the self-imposed deadline. The challenge we had was, at that time – the campaign was focusing on fundraising, staffing up and the insanity behind building up for the coming Convention.

But it should be clear – that DemComm was another skunk-works project: no one in the senior staff (with the possible exception of the Dir of Internet) knew about DemComm. We all knew that the goal was to prepare a proposal for the campaign that would be guidance for development – and help in supporting Cam’s community solution. Cam’s proposal (which I think is still one of the better ideas the campaign generated at the time – combining the best parts of threaded discussions, forums AND blogging) – was not accepted due to cost concerns and potential political liabilities (“What if someone said something on a Kerry Community blog that was racist or anti-American? Even though it came from an outside user, it still is a Kerry-branded site…”) So, while we had some of the best people working on DemComm, the challenge was – as a priority, the community effort had a very different focus.

It’s part of a longer piece by Sanford, who I met at the Digital Democracy Teach-In we helped O’Reilly organize in 2004. I had been engaged in trying to corral the social technology and social media experts who had been involved in the various progressive campaigns that season, to find ways that we could work together to build stronger progressive networks. This led to the creation of an “activist technology” group and a very effective workshop Dan Robinson and I put together, and Jerry Michalski moderated, the day after SXSW Interactive ended in 2005. It also led to a sustained connection with Sanford and other collaborators he brought together with similar intentions. I think that, long-term, our efforts and commitment have paid off. I’ve been less involved in politics this season because I’ve been focused on creating a new business, because I’m more interested in supporting multipartisan grassroots efforts than candidate campaigns, and quite a bit because I think capable people are using the tools much more effectively in 2008… as Exley’s piece confirms. For more on the 2004 accelerated evolution of political technology, check out Extreme Democracy, a book Mitch Ratcliffe and I co-edited.

Zack Exley on “The New Organizers”

Zack Exley, who rejected a proposed plan a meeting to discuss a proposed plan for community-centric organizing offered to the Kerry campaign in 2004, writes at the Huffington Post about the Obama campaign’s success in incorporating the “netroots.”

The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization….Win or lose, “The New Organizers” have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation.

Obama’s people are extending the uses of technology documented in Extreme Democracy The Kerry campaign had an opportunity to go there in April 2004, but opted for a completely top-down approach, though a group of volunteers with experience in online commmunity, including Howard Rheingold, Nanci Meng, Tex Coate, Cameron Barrett, Jock Gill, Nancy White, Bob Jacobson, Aldon Hynes, Jerry Michalski and myself offered community organizing plans that could have been implemented with minimal overhead, leveraging technology and volunteers. Jock Gill wrote about this in 2006 at Greater Democracy. Jock posts text from the plan in comments.

Not faulting Zack, who was coming to the Kerry campaign from, an email-based organization brilliant at coordinating activist campaigns, but never effective using social technology to organize the “netroots.” We had been meeting with the Kerry campaign when he came on board and chose not to pursue the netroots approach, working instead with the moveon style of fundraising he knew best, under very real pressure to raise money for the campaign, leaving little time and mindshare for grassroots organizing, the effectiveness of which was iffy in the short term. What we were offering was risky in that it would have taken longer to build effectively, however if we had started then, there would have been a much stronger network of communities committed to the Democratic party, and Obama could arguably have grown his network better and faster. And it’s not that the netroots didn’t organize. Howard Dean continued working his networks to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a very effective netroots emerged through Daily Kos and other progressive hubs.

And the Obama campaign really understood the power of the technology, not just to support fundraising, but to organize effective networks and communities in support of their candidate. I suspect there’s a whole powerful Obama network that you don’t really see because of this focus on building support from the ground up rather than through more visible mass media. It will be very interesting to see the effect of this organizing on the November elections.

Additional note: I’ve been discussing the netroots in a two-week interview with Lowell Feld and Nate Wilcox, authors of Netroots Rising, in a public conversation on the WELL.

Social media for breakfast

Cross-posted from Social Web Strategies:

Peter Kim, who describes himself as a traditional marketing professional, gave an interesting talk at this morning’s Social Media Breakfast. He says at his site that he’s working on an enterprise social technology company, along with Kate Niederhoffer, who was also at the SMB, and my pal Doug Rushkoff, who’s “not from around here.” I’m mulling this over: he says he’s a traditional marketer but he’s helping build a social tech company, so there might be a contradiction here, especially given his talk, wherein he questioned whether social media really works for marketing. Actually, he led by questioning whether negative social media experiences (like fake blogs) had any impact on companies like Wal-Mart and Comcast… it’s not like their stock went south based on blogosphere or videosphere bad buzz. I pointed out, though, that the companies had done far worse without taking a huge hit. It’s a complicated world, and social media makes it even more so.

Another question Kim was asking was whether companies could scale their use of social media so that it could make a difference for them in a positive way, as part of their marketing efforts. Why are companies still spending three million on superbowl ads if social media can be effective? As always happens with new forms of media, at least early on the new doesn’t replace the old, it’s just another way of communicating. I think most of us who’ve been at this for quite a while suspect we’re seeing a revolution, the new converged media will be truly transformative, more and more so over time. I suspect Peter Kim sees that more clearly than he let on.

The talk got me thinking. Social media is complex, it’s niche, it’s political, it involves all sorts of personalities and personal quirks; user generated content requires monitoring or moderation or some kind of oversight, so there’s very real and possibly expensive social overhead. Some companies are jumping in and others are interested, but a social web strategy requires a lot of thought, and perception from new angles, flexing new brain muscles you didn’t know you had as you think your way into it. And you can’t own it in the same way you could own a top-down marketing campaign. In a sense, it owns you, and requires that you be authentic…

My friend Mike Chapman said at one point that “there are no rules. When you try to put rules around it, you break it.”