May 10 2009

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

by at 1:52 pm

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

The Need for the 4Cs Social Media Framework

Over the last year, I have had to explain how social media works to diplomats, defense officials, and academics and students focused on fields as diverse as international affairs, management and sociology.

I have found that first-timer find social media confusing because of two reasons.

The first reason is the excessive focus on specific social media tools. Many first-timers are introduced to social media via specific tools. Many ‘social media experts’ who are practitioners rather than thinkers also focus on specific tools. Since social media encompasses many different types of tools, and each tool has specific characteristics and a steep learning curve, a toolkit approach can quickly become overwhelming. Blogging (WordPress), microblogging (Twitter), video-sharing (YouTube), photo-sharing (Flickr), podcasting (Blog Talk Radio), mapping (Google Maps), social networking (Facebook), social voting (Digg), social bookmarking (Delicious), lifestreaming (Friendfeed), wikis (Wikipedia), and virtual worlds (Second Life) are all quite different from each other and new and hybrid tools are being introduced almost everyday. Mastering each tool individually seems like a lot of work and a lot of people give up even before they begin.

The second reason is a clear definition of what social media is, even within the social media community. Different thinkers and practitioners use different terms to describe similar tools and practices. Terms like social media, digital media, new media, citizen media, participatory media, peer-to-peer media, social web, participatory web, peer-to-peer web, read write web, social computing, social software, web 2.0, and even crowdsourcing and wikinomics can mean similar or slightly different things depending upon who is using it. Journalists, marketers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, software vendors and academics approach the space from their own perspectives and have their own preferred terms. Used precisely, these terms can mean very different things. However, very few people use these terms precisely and almost nobody agrees on the exact definition of these terms.

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

My own approach to social media is both tool-agnostic and terminology-agnostic. So, I use the term social media to encompass all the tools and all the practices that are described by the terms I mentioned above.

Instead of getting distracted by the tools and the terminologies, I focus on the four underlying themes in social media, the 4Cs of social media: Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence. Taken together, these four themes constitute the value system of social media. I believe that the tools are transient, the buzzwords will change, but the value system embedded in these 4Cs is here to stay. So, let’s look at these 4Cs in some detail.

The First C: Content

The first C, Content, refers to the idea that social media tools allow everyone to become a creator, by making the publishing and distribution of multimedia content both free and easy, even for amateurs.

User generated content, and the hope of monetizing it through advertising, is at the core of the business model of almost all social media platforms. User generated content is also at the core of citizen journalism, the notion that amateur users can perform journalist-like functions (accidentally or otherwise) by reporting and commenting on news. Citizen journalists have repeatedly emerged as critical in crisis reporting and several citizen journalist platforms have emerged to harness their potential to report hyper-local news.

However, just because everyone can become a creator doesn’t mean that everyone does. Most users prefer to consume user generated content, by reading blog, watching videos, or browsing through photos. Some user curate user generated content, by tagging it on social bookmarking websites, voting for it on social voting websites, commenting on it, or linking to it. Researcher have found support for the 1:9:90 rule in many different contexts. The 1:9:90 rule says that 90% of all users are consumers, 9% of all users are curators and only 1% of the users are creators.

The Second C: Collaboration

The second C, Collaboration, refers to the idea that social media facilitates the aggregation of small individual actions into meaningful collective results.

Collaboration can happen at three levels: conversation, co-creation and collective action.

As consumers and curators engage with compelling content, the content becomes the center of conversations. Conversations create buzz, which is how ideas tip, become viral. Many social media practitioners who are from a marketing or public relations background are focused on creating conversations.

However, some of us recognize that conversations are a mere stepping stone for co-creation. In co-creation, the value lies as much in the curated aggregate as in the individual contributions. Wikis are a perfect example of co-creation. Open group blogs, photo pools, video collages and similar projects are also good examples of co-creation.

Collective action goes one step further and uses online engagement to initiate meaningful action. Collective action can take the form of signing online petitions, fundraising, tele-calling, or organizing an offline protest or event.

Even though conversations, co-creation and collective action are different forms of collaboration, the difficulty in collaborating increases dramatically as we move from conversations to co-creation to collective action. The key is to start with a big task, break it down into individual actions (modularity) that are really small (granularity), and then put them together into a whole without losing value (aggregating mechanism). It is also important to bridge online conversations into mainstream media buzz and online engagement into offline action.

The Third C: Community

The third C, Community, refers to the idea that social media facilitates sustained collaboration around a shared idea, over time and often across space.

The notion of a community is really tricky because every web page is a latent community, waiting to be activated. A vibrant community has size and strength, and is built around a meaningful social object.

Most people understand that a community that has a large number of members (size) who have strong relationships and frequent interactions with each other (strength) is better than a community which doesn’t. However, a community is more than the sum total of its members and their relationships.

People don’t build relationships with each other in a vacuum. A vibrant community is built around a social object that is meaningful for its members. The social object can be a person, a place, a thing or an idea. The Netroots community is built around progressive politics in America. The My Barack Obama community was built around Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The Obama Girl community was built around a series of videos Amber Lee Ettinger made to support Obama’s campaign. Sometimes, choosing the right social object can be crucial for building a vibrant community. HP can choose to build a community around printers, printing, or corporate careers, all of which will have very different characteristics.

The Fourth C: Collective Intelligence

The fourth C, Collective Intelligence, refers to the idea that the social web enables us to not only aggregate individual actions, but also run sophisticated algorithms on them and extract meaning from them.

Collective intelligence can be based on both implicit and explicit actions and often takes the form of reputation and recommendation systems. Google extracts the pagerank, a measure of how important a page is, from our (implicit) linking and clicking behavior. Amazon and Netflix are able to offer us recommendations based on our (implicit) browsing, (implicit) buying and (explicit) rating behavior and comparing it to the behavior of other people like us. eBay and Amazon assign ratings to sellers and reviewers respectively, based on whether other members in the community had a good experience with them. On the day of the 2008 US elections, the Obama campaign was able to assign trimmed down telecalling lists to volunteers by ticking off the names of the people who had already voted.

The great thing about collective intelligence is that it becomes easier to extract meaning from a community as the size and strength of the community grow. If the collective intelligence is then shared back with the community, the members find more value in the community, and the community grows even more, leading to a virtuous cycle.

The4Cs Social Media Framework in Summary

So, the 4Cs form a hierarchy of what is possible with social media. As we move from Content to Collaboration to Community to Collective Intelligence, it becomes increasingly difficult to both observe these layers and activate them. Also each layer is often, but not always, a pre-requisite for the next layer. Compelling content is a pre-requisite for meaningful collaboration, which is a pre-requisite for a vibrant community, which, in turn, is a pre-requisite for collective intelligence.

Although I designed the 4Cs framework to explain how I see social media, I have also found it to be a useful tools to evaluate specific social media initiatives. The best social media initiatives leverage all these four layers, but I have seen that most initiatives get stuck between the Collaboration and Community layers. Examples of social media initiatives that leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers are few and far between. It’s important to note, however, that each layer is valuable in itself, and it’s OK to design an initiative to only exploit the Content or Collaboration layers.

The 4Cs Social Media Framework Applied to Digital Activism

Let me explain what I just said my applying the 4Cs framework to digital activism initiatives.

Many digital activism initiatives like Social Documentary and Witness primarily focus on using social media tools to create and share compelling multimedia Content. Some of this Content generates Conversations and becomes viral and some of it might even lead to Collective Action. However, the focus is on Content.

Other initiatives, like Vote Report India or the Pink Chaddi Campaign, start off with a strong focus on Collaboration around a specific event. In its first iteration, Vote Report India leveraged Co-creation by creating a platform for collectively tracking irregularities in the 2009 Indian elections. The Pink Chaddi Campaign leveraged Collective Action by asking its supporters to send pink panties to the Sri Ram Sena as Valentine’s Day gifts. As these campaigns become successful, they try to move to the next Community level, but don’t always succeed in building a long-term community.

Very few digital activism initiatives are able to leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers. The Netroots community in the US, especially Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and MoveOn.org, have been able to build a strong Community around progressive politics in the US. My Barack Obama leverage some aspects of Collective Intelligence during the 2008 presidential campaign.

What About You?

If you are a social media practitioner or a digital activist focused on the Content and Collaboration layers, I would urge you to think about how you can move to the Community layer. If you already run a vibrant community, I would urge you to think about introducing reputation and recommendation systems in it and leverage the Collective Intelligence layer.

If you are designing a new social media initiative, I would urge you to use the 4Cs Framework in the design and strategy phase itself. Perhaps, in phase one, you would want to start with a campaign built around Content and focused on Collaboration, with elements of co-creation and/ or collective action. You would do well to plan for a phase two which is focused on Community, with a dash of Collective Intelligence built in. The question you want to ask yourself, then, is: how can I design a Collaboration based campaign so that it can be used to build a long-term Community?

If you are a journalist, analyst or academic in the business of understanding social media initiatives, you’ll find the 4Cs Framework really useful. What are the boundary conditions needed to succeed at each layer? What are the boundary conditions needed to move from Content to Collaboration, from Collaboration to Community, and from Community to Collective Intelligence? Can you think of other digital activism or social media initiatives that leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers?

Do share your thoughts.

Cross-posted at Gauravonomics, my blog on social media and social change.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,Social Media,Theory | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 08 2009

Tibetans Seek New Ways to Plead their Case

by at 3:19 pm

Geographically, politically, and historically, the issue of Tibet has been controversial for the Chinese leadership. On one hand, it represents the homeland to Tibetan Buddhists, a religious group that by its inherent existence poses a threat to the non-religious ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. On the other hand, it remains a point of contention between India and China (although the former has formally acknowledged China’s control over the Tibet Autonomous Region), and given India’s diametrically opposite position on freedom of speech, the Tibetan government in exile is given the ability to internationalize the cause for greater rights in Tibet.

The introduction of social media to Tibetan activists adds a new dimension in this fragile dynamic. The latest and most recent prominent example is of the Tibetan blogger, Ms. Woeser. After being indoctrinated into the Han Chinese educational system regarding the relationship between Tibet and the mainland, Woeser discovered a new reality when she moved to Lhasa at the age of 24. Since that time she has kept 4 different blogs – 3 of which have been shut down – and published some books relaying Tibet’s history through poetry, short stories and photography.

In her quest to unearth the realities of Tibet, she has been placed under house arrest, her friends have been detained, and she herself has been subjected to harsh interrogation. She has been able to circumvent the Internet patrols by sending email and skype messages to outside contacts, who are then able to post them on her blog, Invisible Tibet

Through the accounts of Ms. Woeser and other intrepid Tibetans, international readers and activists have been given significant ballast. In the West, her story has been highlighted by various media outlets including the New York Times and the Times Online. Further, non-government human rights groups such as Amnesty International have incorporated her work into their broader campaigns.

While the U.S. and other governments have shied away from making human rights the focal point of their relationship with China, the increasing social media documentation and the instant ability to disseminate this information, especially with regards to Tibet, has added a new layer of advocacy to the issue. It is only a matter of time before foreign governments will have to start operate on this compelling evidence.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

May 08 2009

Jackie Chan Facing Virtual World Condemnation

by at 2:28 pm

Internationally acclaimed movie star Jackie Chan is being blasted all over the Chinese media for his recent comments suggesting that Chinese people need to be controlled. Chan made the unremarkable comments at the Baoa forum in mid-April; the forum, which is attended by business leaders, academics and political leaders was intended this year to discuss how countries in Asia can respond to financial crisis.

Mr. Chan has a record for being a vocal Chinese nationalist, and his comments did identify Taiwan and Hong Kong as being unruly because of their excessive freedom. Some analysts suspect that Chan was only trying to curry favor with the Chinese Communist Party elites because they had banned one of his movies due to its excess violence.

Regardless of his motives, the Chinese netizens have come out in full force. More than a few groups have been launched on facebook, denigrating Mr. Chan for more than his recent comments. One group has been established with the organizing cause of “FOR Sending Jackie Chan to North Korea!”.  Even the People’s Daily – the paper known as the CCP’s propaganda arm – has criticized Chan’s comments. Blog writers have been running the story and generating a flurry of responses for the last three weeks.

After a cursory examination of some of the leading blogs in China, it looks like after the initial storm of criticism, some readers are commenting that what Chan said might not be true, but it should open the door for discussion on freedom in China. Moreover, readers are questioning what he meant by Taiwan and Hong Kong being “chaotic”. 

I don’t think Jackie Chan is a big enough figure to generate a nationwide discourse on democracy, openness, or government control, but he certainly inspired the users of social media technology.  When looked at in conjunction with Yu Keping’s recent book, “Democracy is a Good thing” and the failed attempt at getting Chart08 off the ground, it is clear that the undercurrents for a nation-wide debate are beginning to take form.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

May 06 2009

BRIC Privacy, Transparency, Openness, and Closedness

by at 2:35 pm

I’ve posted my research paper for this academic year’s Yahoo!/ISD research at Scribd:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/15026749/BRIC-Openness-and-Privacy-YahooGeorgetown-ISD-research

The introduction:

In the near future, most of the world’s internet users are going to come from five countries:  the US, Brazil, Russia, India, and China (or USABRIC).  Each country has a profoundly unique culture and government-institutional memory that will shape how its citizens interact online through social networking sites (SNSs).  But hard culture has been caught up in a swirling vortex of attitudes and customs online, where sharing more data about oneself and getting more connections and friends provides social capital benefits that can exceed the benefits from a country’s cultural norms and its appetite for being more open about itself or more closed about itself.  Thus, a desire for standardization in the form of a global social networking system is strong — as shown by Facebook’s rapid growth worldwide.  As this standardization becomes more normal, though, hard cultures will emerge again and shape the way that SNSs look and feel and perform so that peoples’ online data truly reflects their identities.  But it will be through a model — one which I propose — of transparency in which users have greater control over their own data yet they still share it willingly, according to their cultural comfort levels.

And the conclusion:

Through the openness versus closedness model, I would theorize that there should be significant differences exhibited through online behavior among the BRIC countries and the US.  The way that Brazilians use the social web should be far different than how Russia uses the social web, based on the model and large culture differences, not to mention because of the degree of online connectivity within each country.
Yet cultural differences have not been amplified or even replicated very strongly onto the online space.  Facebook dominates most English-speaking countries and has just surpassed Myspace as the most trafficked SNS in the US.  Facebook is making rapid gains in France and India and other nations integrated into the online community.  In countries where Facebook is not doing as well, at least one of the top competitors, such as in China or Russia, are blatant Facebook clones, with slightly weaker privacy controls.
Facebook dominates online SNSs and looks to gain even more market share relative to its peers as it becomes the online standard for pure social networking.  That the demand for standardization of a social networking platform overrides desire for cultural mapping says that the degree of customizability and control given to users on SNSs has not yet reached a point where users can represent themselves accurately.  That is, users do not have the controls or features of granularity to map their identities online in ways that would match their typical cultural and community identities.
Such a conclusion hints that the online space in terms of technical standards is already adequate, and what is now needed is development in cultural identity tools to help people customize, create, tailor, and socially groom themselves online, the way they would offline.  What is missing is an identity layer for the Internet’s stack design.
Open standards to allow data portability, such as OpenID (which allows one login across multiple sites through a trust and verification system) and OAuth (requests your permission to transmit data from one site to another), will inevitably increase the ease of which users can share their information across sites without re-typing it all in.  People will become less “locked in” to using one site, and they can immediately get started across multiple sites.  Says John Clippinger:
“The ability to build and leverage trust among members of a group builds social capital and significantly reduces transaction costs.  For example, an organization with low-trust membership might have to invoke explicit legalistic methods where the intentions of the parties cannot be reliably inferred or depended upon.  But because high-trust social networks are mutually interdependent, with all the parties having a common stake and a shared theory of mind, they require low coordination and low enforcement costs.”
In essence, a trust network is being created in the online community, consistent with the externalities of transparency within the openness versus closedness model.
Eventually, once data can pass freely from one site to another with the owner’s permission, there will be a “jailbreak” of people leaving locked-in sites.  It is at this point, I would argue, that SNSs will truly begin to exhibit cultural differences, appealing to different demographics and races and national identities of people.  It is at this point that finding a common standard for your entire social graph, through a Facebook, will become less of a priority, and being able to accurately exhibit yourself through niche SNSs will become the priority.  Guarantee and facility of one’s own data will enable self-expression.

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Apr 02 2009

Virtual Spy Ring Tied to China

by at 11:20 pm

The New York Times reported this past week that a virtual spy ring has accessed information off of computers in 103 countries. The finding was unearthed by researchers at the Munk Center for International Studies in Canada, and indicates that most of the computers involved in the spying were located in China. The researchers have not yet been able to definitively conclude whether or not the Chinese Government was involved in the spying program, or whether it is the work of a private, for profit firm.

Regardless of who the perpetrators are, the scope and capabilities of the spying network are cause for concern. In addition to being able to access private documents, the article reports that the spying company was able to implant technology onto recipient computers that would allow the spies to turn on the camera and sound recording functions on computers equipped with them.

The researchers started on the trail of this spying operation after being asked by the Dalai Lama to investigate computers in his office for tainted software. Indeed the researchers found that the computers had been infected with malware.  While no one has yet linked the Chinese government to the program, representatives of the Dalai Lama have indicated that some of their electronic contacts have been contacted and discouraged/intimidated by the Chinese government.

This invasion of privacy could become particularly damning for the Chinese government and its interaction with the cyber world. In a previous case, the government was proven to have tapped into instant message conversations citizens were having on the Chinese version of Skype. Further, two weeks ago, the government banned youtube during the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising.

The full report of the latest findings has been published on the Information Warfare Monitor.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

Mar 31 2009

Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India: The Impact of Socially Conscious Corporate Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 3:08 pm

In my previous posts for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I have analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning and civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns.

As interesting as these initiatives are, the three most effective election campaigns in the 2009 Indian general elections are run by corporate brands: Jaago Re by Tata Tea, My Idea from Idea Cellular and Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India (Live Mint/ Thaindian/ Exchange4Media/ Hindustan Times).

In my earlier avatar as the custodian of a large brand in India, I was convinced that online campaigns in India could stand on their own, without support from ad spends in mainstream media. The tactics employed by these three successful campaigns have made me realize that online brand campaigns in India will continue to be driven by heavy spending in mainstream media.

Tata Tea Jaago Re

The Jaago Re campaign was launched by Tata Tea and Janaagraha in September 2008 (press release) to start a voter registration drive in colleges and corporates in 35 cities across the country and register four million voters. The voter registration itself is driven through an interactive application on its website and kiosks, which helps users identify their constituency, prepares a ready to print voter registration form in five minutes, guides them to the nearest voter registration center and updates them via SMS when their names are added to the voting list.

The campaign, which is run by a small team of youngsters in their twenties (The Week), has an advisory board that includes former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy and Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Hindustan Times/ Indian Express/ TOI). The campaign has convinced several large colleges and companies to become 100 percent registered (TOI/ TOI/ Mid Day/ TOI/ Deccan Herald) and even convinced the election commission to allow bulk submission of registration forms.

Tata Tea has used a number of interesting ads to engage the Indian youth into the Jaago Re campaign.

Jaago Re main ad

Jaago Re Use Your Finger! Use it to Vote!

Tata Tea has also tied up with various TV channels to create micro campaigns like Bindass TV’s iChange campaign to support the Jagoo Re campaign —

Jaago Re Bindass TV Ungali Utha Vote Kar ad

Jaago Re Disney ‘If I Were a Prime Minister’ ad

Jaago Re Channel V VJ Juhi ‘Vote ya Vaat’ ad

Jaago Re also has an active social media presence with more than 15,000 members on Facebook and almost 13,000 members on Orkut.

The campaign is now conducting free Shut Up & Vote rock concerts by Bangalore-based band Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) across 10 cities to to engage Indian youth in the electoral process (DNA/ Indian Express/ IBN Live/ Indian Express/ DNA) —

Jaago Re has turned out to be an extremely successful campaign. Not only has it been a topic of a huge number of news stories and blog posts, and resulted in much goodwill for Tata Tea (Business Standard), it has also managed to register 531,395 voters so far, in spite of its run ins with a slow moving bureaucracy (TOI).

The Indian blogosphere is in love with the Jaago Re campaign. Rashmi Bansal believes that, with the campaign, Tata Tea has taken corporate social responsibility further than most brands do. Rajesh Kumar wonders why only beverage companies do election themed social advertising. Indian Homemaker and Chavvi Sachdev share their experiences with voter registration. Sanjukta has an interesting interview with Jaago Re campaign coordinator Jasmine Shah.

Idea Cellular My Idea

Idea Cellular‘s My Idea campaign is a continuation of its participatory democracy ad campaign where a lady politician, aided by her tech-savvy assistant Abhishek Bachchan, gathers the views of the citizens in her constituency using mobile phones —

The campaign, run by Pinstorm, asks people to submit an idea that can change India and vote on the ideas submitted by others. So far, within one month, more than 2,000 ideas have been submitted and more than 140,000 votes have been cast (Indian Television).

It’s the janus-faced Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, however, which is likely to incite the most interesting discussions in the Indian blogosphere.

TOI Lead India

The Lead India campaign carries forward the theme of its 2007 campaign, in which it ran a nationwide ‘talent-hunt’ to search for the next generation of Indian leaders. In its new avatar, it wants to enable the Indian electorate to make the right voting decision in the upcoming elections, by providing a platform for meaningful political debate and supporting the No Criminals in Politics campaign.

TOI Bleed India

At the same time, TOI’s Bleed India campaign parodies Lead India and asks —

Lead India? Where to? Up the garden Path? Round the Bend? And by who? Our Leaders? Lol!

So while the Times Of India tries to find new leaders for a new age (good luck gentlemen!), we focus instead on those who Bleed India; Masters of the Scam, Tigers of the Tightrope: Surely they deserve some acknowledgement of their genius – in staying above the law, beyond the law, in making it and in breaking it..wah! wah! Ladies and gentlemen…you have led us and yes you have bled us.

It then creates an elaborate parody of the typical Indian politician, Pappu Raj, with his own Facebook profile and Facebook page (Exchange4Media).

Anondan tears apart the Lead India print ad while Rajiv Dingra wonders what is cooking with the Lead India/ Bleed India dichotomy. On Twitter, several users like Deepak and Kanika, find the Bleed India campaign “funny and creative”, while Sumant and Aadisht believe that Bleed India is “buzz gone wrong” and “badly done sarcasm”.

Opinion is divided on whether Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India/ Bleed India are really socially conscious campaigns, or blatant attempts to generate buzz, but if engagement is the benchmark for success, these campaigns are the most effective ones running in the election season in India.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mar 28 2009

Digital Civil Society Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 5:57 pm

In my first post for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I had analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning. In this post, I’ll detail how civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns in the run up to the elections.

The National Election Watch, a collaboration between 1200 NGOs led by Association for Democratic Reforms, seeks to increase transparency in Indian elections by combining information about constituencies and candidates with user comments and ratings on candidates. However, the website suffers from inadequate usage and the absence of rich data (Live Mint).

The Campaign for No Criminals in Politics aims to ensure that no political party gives tickets to candidates with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.

Campaign for No Criminals in Politics

The data on its website is based on the affidavits submitted by the 2004 contestants. The campaign has an active Facebook group with almost 5000 members and has also launched two videos to promote its campaign —

Bharat Votes (Facebook/ Orkut) also aims to create awareness about voting using social media tools (IBN Live).

Vote India is another voter awareness website which has got some traction (AFP/ TOI/ Washington Post). It has an active presence on Twitter and Orkut (1/ 2/ 3) and has also used a video to promote itself —

Vote India’s page on section 49(O) has been widely cited in what I believe is a misguided discussion on “negative voting”. Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a “none of the above” option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them (DNA/ IBN Live/ Economic Times/ Live Mint/ Mid Day). A chain e-mail falsely claims that such a rule already exists. Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad and Vimoh, strongly support the idea and even call it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group promoting the idea has more than 100 members and an online petition to recognize the negative vote also has more than 100 signatures.

Several city and state specific websites have come up to help voters register to vote and make smart choices about their candidates. SmartVote and Bangalore Voter ID in Bangalore, Mumbai Votes in Mumbai, and Future CM in Andhra Pradesh are some of the more prominent examples.

Mumbai Votes

Another category of websites aims to engage citizens into discussion and ideation on civic issues and then use the online community to initiate offline collective action at a later stage.

Lords of Odds, which runs an online sports prediction market in India, has started a Digg-like social voting micro-site called Manifesto to help citizens create their own manifesto for the elections.

Lords of Odds Manifesto

I think that a social voting website focused on the elections is a great idea. In fact, three months back, I was toying with the idea of starting one myself at IndiaTalks. I wish that NGOPost, which runs an active social voting community on social welfare issues, would start a separate section on the elections.

Praja aims to use online tools to build a community of engaged citizens who can be mobilized to participate in offline collective action. Youth for Equality aims to build a political movement to end caste-based reservations in India. The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan aims to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. Change India, started by Lead India winner Rajendra Misra aims to channelize the energies of citizens, by building online and offline participatory platforms, to solve India’s many problems (Rajendra Misra has recently joined BJP, so the initiative is hardly non-partisan anymore (DNA)). India Banao also aims to provide a platform for young people to participate in public affairs. For many of these websites, online participation is limited, and their effectiveness in organizing offline action is suspect.

Yet another category of websites aim to become the default source of news and analysis related the 2009 general elections.

IndiPepal

IndiPepal is perhaps the most ambitious of these with blogs from several well-known analysts, but India Voting (Indian Express/ IBN Live), Engage Voter, India Numbers and India Votes 2009 also have content rich websites. These websites, however, are directly competing with election microsites from mainstream media — TOI, TOI Your Voice, DNA, The Hindu, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Your Manifesto, MSN, Rediff, NDTV and IBN Live (via Sidin Vadukut at Live Mint).

The Indian blogosphere has reacted positively to these grassroots initiatives, even though they have got limited traction. For instance, the ‘Indian Homemaker’ believes that campaigns like ‘No Criminals’ are a sign that we can still make a difference. Rajiv Dingra at WATBlog and Preethi J at Medianama have done good roundups of these initiatives.

Finally, the three most effective “civil society” campaigns in the 2009 general elections are run by corporate brands: Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, Jaago Re by Tata Tea and My Idea from Idea Cellular. I’ll cover these three campaigns in the next post in the series.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 23 2009

Facebook Privacy Stats Discussion

by at 6:30 pm

My friend Kevin Donovan sent me a link (thanks Kevin) to this post (by Fred Stutzman) criticizing a NYTimes article (by Randall Stross) about how Facebook is affecting privacy boundaries for different age groups.

Personally I think the post is a bit too harsh on the NYTimes article (along with Michael Zimmer‘s), but provides excellent data points in his criticism.

Stutzman quotes some excellent data (see his post for references):

Stross simply has this one wrong.  Instead of misguided intuition, let’s look at the numbers.  In the Summer/Fall of 2008, Jacob Kramer-Duffield and I ran a survey of undergraduate Facebook users.  We employed a list-based simple random sample, with 494 respondents.  When asked the question Have you changed the default Facebook privacy settings to give yourself enhanced privacy in Facebook?, 72.47% responded “Yes.” To the question Based on your Facebook privacy settings choices, who do you allow to see your Facebook profile?, 50% answered “Only my Facebook friends.” (1)

It’s good to see that Facebook users are beginning to learn how to use the many settings Facebook gives them to control their privacy, such that the percentages have changed dramatically.  It had been weird to see so many Facebook users unresponsive to the privacy tools given to them.

I also liked Stutzman’s final comments:

First, Facebook defaults have changed over the years, so a default now may have been a modification in the past.  Second, Facebook’s audience is increasingly international, so we must remember that norms will vary significantly across nations and cultures.  Third, privacy is not in Facebook’s business interests.  Less privacy = more content, so it may not be in Facebook’s interest to craft a privacy statistic that reflects current norms.

But Stutzman concludes with this:

Young people didn’t simply decide to give up privacy.  Rather, the studies show that social network sites, in their early iterations, created a very meaningful sense of close community.  Young people disclosed not because attitudes about privacy instantly and simultaneously changed, but because they felt very comfortable with their audience.

Hmm.  It seems as though Randall Stross was just saying that older people do not take as freely to sharing their lives publicly as younger people would.  Is that horribly wrong to say?  While there is more resistance among older people, sure, many will eventually adapt (I’ve been getting my dad to share more online).

But generational memory and identity are hard to break; try as we might, there will be many of the older generations who will just never change, and will never want to share online.  They grew up in a different world, and it sticks with them.  I’m not saying Stutzman is wrong — I would just like to see him add generational memory to the study of old vs. young people.  I’d argue that kids these days are being wired to accept a future flesh/digital hybrid world…one where a radical transparency and accountability system exists and there is little privacy except for the most intimate parts of our lives.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Context,Privacy

Mar 22 2009

How Internet and Mobile Technologies are Transforming Election Campaigning in India

by at 10:44 pm

Politics in India is essentially local and India’s voters elect their representatives based on small local and regional issues, instead of the big national issues. As a result, election rallies and door-to-door canvassing, supplemented by local hoardings and print ads in the vernacular languages have traditionally been at the core of election campaigning in India.

In 2004, the incumbent BJP broke away from this pattern with its aggressive nation-wide ‘India Shining’ campaign. It recruited advertising and PR agencies to manage its campaign, focused on the urban first time voter, advertised heavily on print and television, and allocated 5% of its campaign budget to an e-campaign, for revamping its campaign website, pushing out text messages, pre-recorded voice clips and emails to its database of 20 million email users and 20 million phone users, and offering campaign-related mobile ringtones for download (BBC/ BBC/ Rediff/ Hindu). The ‘India Shining’ campaign didn’t work eventually, and Sonia Gandhi led Congress to a surprise victory, once again reaffirming the almost magical appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family amongst India’s voters. Many observers even attributed BJP’s loss to its “elitist” ‘India Shining’ campaign (Live Mint).

In spite of its “failure”, BJP’s India Shining campaign has set the pattern for all Indian election campaigns since then: spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, film theaters and on-ground activities (Live Mint).

What, then, has changed since 2004? For one, the demographic profile of India’s electoral based has shifted. More than half of India’s 1150 million population is younger than 25, 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004, and, as a result of the newly delimited constituencies, the importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral collage. Not only that, the internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 26 million to 365 million for mobile, and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet. Even more importantly, shaken by the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack, and inspired by Barack Obama’s success in the US elections, the young urban Indian is likely to step out to vote for the first time in India’s recent electoral history. As a result, both BJP and Congress are targeting young, urban voters like never before. BJP and Congress, however, have adopted different tactic to appeal to this audience. While Congress is banking on the youthful appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the 39 year of scion of the Gandhi family, BJP has embarked on an aggressive 360 degree campaign, inspired by the Obama campaign (Chicago Tribune/ AFP/ Indian Express/ TOI/ Reuters).

While BJP’s official website is nothing but a brochure, Lal Krishna Advani’s website has several interesting features. To begin with, LK Advani’s blog has been active since January 2009 and each of the ten odd posts have between 50 to 150 comments. Surprisingly, the Hindi version of LK Advani’s blog has very few comments. The forum on LK Advani’s website isn’t much to look at, but it’s doing well, with 6586 members, 2940 topics, and 9354 posts.

The Advani@Campus initiative seeks to build a grassroots volunteer campaign “to contact and mobilize young voters in thousands of college campuses across the country” (Telegraph/ DNA/ NDTV/ Indian Express). The focus on recruiting volunteers is reflected in a well-structured volunteer program. The tasks range from recruiting first time voters, promoting LK Advani’s website and social media profiles, translating sections of the website, designing banner ads, and helping out with other campaign work. According to one report, BJP has recruited more than 7000 volunteers through the website (Business Standard).

Bloggers for Advani

Especially interesting is the Bloggers for Advani initiative run by Mallika Noorani. The initiative is coordinated through a Google Group (started based on a suggestion by yours truly), and encourages bloggers to display a Bloggers for Advani button and promote BJP’s ideas on their blogs.

Advani youtube channel

It seems that most of the social media initiatives on the Advani campaign are run by volunteers and encouraged by the campaign coordinators. In any case, it’s difficult to identify which profiles or groups are official and which are unofficial. The official website links to a LK Advani Facebook page (with 390 supporters) and an Advani for PM Orkut group (with 960 members), but there are several other unofficial groups with similar memberships. The (official?) BJP Supporters Group on Orkut has 22,157 members. Similarly, there’s confusion about whether the @BJP_ Twitter profile, which has 416 followers is indeed official.

bjp_twitter_profile

A group which seems to work closely with the campaign team is the Friends of BJP group (Facebook/ Orkut), which includes several prominent professionals including Rajesh Jain and R K Mishra. Another unofficial website which is getting some traction is Join BJP.

Apart from these national level initiatives, several BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and V K Malhotra also have well-designed websites. Narendra Modi and V K Malhotra also have Twitter profiles.

The BJP is also running an aggressive online ad campaign, primarily with Google, with search ads across as many as 200,000 keywords, placement ads across 50,000 websites, and banner ads across 2,000 websites. With a billion searches every month, BJP’s campaign is expected to recah 75% of India’s internet users (Live Mint/ Economics Times).

BJP is also planning to send one billion SMSes to about 250 million cellphone users, who are not enrolled in the Do-Not-Call registry. Overall, telecom operators expect to make an additional revenue of $10 million from an extra traffic of 3-4 billion SMSes sent by all the political parties, apart from money from from multimedia messages, songs and wallpapers (Economic Times/ Indian Express/ Financial Express).

Last week, the BJP also released a detailed 30-page IT Vision document (PDF) with much fanfare. The document is partly a road map to reform and partly a pre-election populist pipe dream. It promises to give the highest priority to developing IT infrastructure and leveraging it for better governance and inclusive development. Specifically, it promises to match China on all IT-related parameters within 5 years. While many observers have dismissed the document as pre-election populism, others have pointed out that it is a testament to BJP’s forward looking thinking that it believes that it can win an election by promising to transform India into an IT super-power.

vote_for_congress

The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in the web 1.0 era. Both the official Congress website and the Congress Media websites are online brochures. The Vote for Congress portal, which was supposed to revolutionize its online campaign by providing the Congress candidates a platform to blog (Hindu/ TOI), is still not up. None of the senior Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh — have a website and, what’s worse, their URLs are owned by cyber-squatters (Indian Express). The party does want to set up 600 internet kiosks across the country (Hindu) but without engaging interactive content, their effectiveness might be limited.

Shashi Tharoor — author and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations — is perhaps the only Congress candidate to seriously leverage the web in his campaign, with presence on Facebook and Orkut (CIOL/ Sify). Former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna has a Twitter profile. Some of the younger Congress candidates like Priya Dutt, Milind Deora (Facebook) and Sachin Pilot also have well-designed websites, but aren’t really active on social media.

vote_for_cpim

Several other regional parties have either set up, or revamped, their websites, in the run up to the general elections. The CPI-M (Live Mint/ Hindu/ Economic Times/ Indian Express) and Samajvadi Party websites seem to be the most well-designed. However, none of these websites are using social media tools, beyond asking for donations and newsletter subscriptions.

Many observers have pointed out that the digital campaigns by BJP and other Indian political parties are amateurish in comparison to Barack Obama’s social media campaign (CIOL/ Networked World) and they are right. BJP’s digital campaign can hardly be compared to Obama’a campaign, in terms of ambition, execution or results. The campaign is hardly going to change the course of the election; the election will still be decided in India’s small towns and villages. But, even if it “fails”, the campaign will set a precedent for all future elections in India, just like the ‘India Shining’ campaign did, five years ago.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mar 22 2009

Alpacas and Crabs cause a stir in China

by at 5:12 pm

In a sign that the social networking generation in China will not sit still while the Bureau for Supervising the Security of Public Security of Public Information Networks develops algorithms to prevent censored words, bloggers and you tube activists have started communicating in code.

In writing, the word for Alpaca is a benign, almost trivial word reserved for animal enthusiasts. However, due to the tonal system in the Chinese oral language expression, when pronounced in a certain way, this word doubles as a profane word not to be repeated by children. The Alpaca, and its new cult of personality has become a mega-hit; it represents the latest subversion of the CCP’s long running efforts to sanitize the internet.  It is unclear how the alpaca got its start, but it is now featured on a youtube video that has spread virally with close to 1.4 million views and numerous accompanying cartoons and blog commentaries.

Similarly, the image of, and reference to, a river crab indicates that the discussant might be censored, or has been censored. The origin of the crab goes straight to the senior leadership of the CCP. On many occasions, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have insisted on China’s desire to have a harmonious society. While this is often intended to mean economic growth combined with political and social stability, it is construed by agitators as the government’s desire to stem public activism. In the blogosphere, therefore, this first translated into bloggers saying that their work was “harmonized” when it in fact had been censored.  After the Ministry of Public Security and the Bureau of Public security began censoring “harmony” as a subversive word, bloggers started using the word “river crab”, which when written, resembles “harmony”, but due to the tonal system mentioned above, when pronounced, it means river crab. Shortly thereafter, pictures of the river crab started proliferating around the internet.

The Alpaca and River Crab saga will likely morph further, and will soon inspire new, more creative forms of communication.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

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