Will ‘Telecentros’ Transform Cuba’s Internet Access?

It wasn't your typical keynote address.

Earlier this month, at an event held on the campus of Cornell University, a room of people gazed at a blank screen in rapt attention, listening to a woman speak over a weak cell phone connection originating in Cuba.

The speaker was Cuba's 32-year-old star blogger, Yoani Sanchez. The event was the seventh annual meeting of Roots of Hope, an organization founded by Cuban-American students that aims to promote cultural exchanges with the island. Its April meeting was specifically focused on new media. (I was invited as a panelist.) Attendees had been told that the keynote speaker would be a surprise. After a nail-biting series of dropped calls, the attendees were thrilled to hear Sanchez finally come on the line.

yoani.jpgSanchez told her U.S. audience how she had assembled her personal computer by foraging for discarded components, and devised an online publishing strategy that relied on scarce computers, cell phones, and flash drives. Last year, her blog posts and tweets earned her a spot on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Sanchez epitomizes the Cuban online community's ingenious response to the dual restrictions of government censorship and the U.S. trade embargo. Some call it the "hacker mindset." In the same fashion that Cubans manage to keep the chassis of 50 year-old old Chevys on the road, a small but growing Cuban tech community has learned how to go online against the odds.

Thanks to cooperation from other countries in Latin America, a new attitude in Washington, and the work of NGOs, Cuba may be poised to make big online strides.

The Cuban Paradox

When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba 51 years ago, he launched a revolution that has been fueling controversy ever since. Supporters lauded Cuban advances in health care and education, while detractors condemned the government's heavy-handed measures against everything from private enterprise to gay rights.

The Cuban paradox extends to the media. Although Cuba has achieved one of the highest literacy rates in the hemisphere, it also has earned the most dismal record on freedom of expression. The government controls all news media, and takes harsh measures against any domestic or foreign journalist who steps out of line.

It's not surprising that digital media have been slow to get off the ground in Cuba. They have been woefully hampered by Cuban government censorship, but another major factor has been the decades-old U.S. embargo, which has starved the island of the technologies necessary for modernization.

Something of a double standard has been at work: At the same time Communist countries such as China have been transformed by economic investment and educational exchanges with the U.S., Cuba has been left as an isolated backwater. Only 3 percent of Cuba's 11 million citizens have cell phones, giving it the lowest cell phone penetration in Latin America. It also has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates. The government's restrictions on cell phone ownership and Internet access have further limited communications, often making them a privilege for the party faithful.

Fiber Optic Cable in Cuba

Today a new wave of online media is promising to challenge the Cuban status quo -- and surprisingly, some of the changes are the result of government initiatives. The first one is a fiber optic cable currently being laid between Cuba and Venezuela. It's expected to be completed within a year.

Another new development is arriving by way of Brazil's "Telecentro" program. Telecentros are public computer labs that use open source software and provide free Internet access. They are designed for poor and under-served communities and have been a wild success in Brazil. Ten thousand of them are scheduled to be in service in that country by the end of the year. Brazil is now exporting the model to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Cuba, aiming for a total of 52,000. The Cuban Telecentros are mainly designed to support primary education, but they are available after hours to other community members.

nxs-logo2.jpgOpen source software is playing a key role in the Telecentros. Ryan Bagueros, the owner and founder of NorthxSouth, a software development company that describes itself as a "network of open source developers from all over the Americas," said Brazil and other Latin American governments are unenthusiastic about the high cost and security leaks of U.S.-made proprietary software. (Bagueros joined me on a panel at the annual meeting of Roots of Hope.) He noted that these Latin American countries are investing heavily in developing open source alternatives, and expanded via email about the value of open source software:

Marcos Mazoni (the head of Brazil's federal committee to migrate to open source), conducted a survey last year and, from the free software migration that has already been completed, Brazil is saving $209 million USD each year. When the migration is complete, Brazil should be saving around $500 million USD each year. Brazil, as a whole, spends about $1 billion USD on software licensing each year.

The emphasis on open source is helping to stimulate a Latin tech boom, with the Brazilian tech industry poised to reap substantial advantages. It's too early to predict the impact, but the initial signs are intriguing. Not only have the Latin governments saved millions of dollars on software, but the open-source Telecentros are creating new generations of pre-teen software developers in the favelas.

During our session, Bagueros predicted that this phenomenon could be particularly interesting in Cuba. He reported that embargo restrictions have created a generation of "engineers who are good at 'reverse engineering' software for donated medical equipment" and other devices. The combination of hacker ingenuity, loosened government control, and dramatically increased bandwidth and access could lead to big things, fast, in Cuba.

New Winds from the North

In the past, tensions between Cuba and the United States have complicated every development in communications. The Bush Administration has been criticized for politicizing media development by supporting groups seeking to overthrow the government. One private contractor, dispatched to secretly hand out cell phones and laptops in Cuba, was arrested for espionage last December

The Obama administration is experimenting with a different approach. In March, the Treasury Department modified trade sanctions to allow the export of social media and related technologies to Cuba, Iran, and the Sudan. In combination with the upcoming technological advances, this move could energize online Cuban freedom of expression, and provide the first real alternative to Cuba's geriatric official news media. (Though it's important to note that the administration recenlty took something of a harder line with Cuba.)
cellcuba.jpg

At the same time, new initiatives are appearing in the Cuban-American community. One of the initiatives supported by Roots of Hope is an ongoing cell phone drive called Cells4Cuba.

"[Politically,] I'm to the right myself," said Miguel Cruz, a Cells4Cuba activist from the University of Texas. "But these cell phones are for any youth in Cuba, no matter what their politics."

Roots of Hope has enlisted the support of Cuban-Americans ranging from Gloria Estefan to Perez Hilton, and its membership represents a variety of political perspectives. Its stated goal is to open a dialogue between youth in Cuba and the U.S., and the organization sees social media as a perfect conduit.

Social media won't change the contentious nature of the Cuba debate, and the new developments raise as many questions as they answer. Will the Cubans and Venezuela's mercurial Hugo Chavez attempt to control the data stream on their fiber optic cable? Will Cuban officials try to emulate China's army of Internet censors to control content, trace dissidents, or conduct online espionage? Will Latin American tech initiatives find new ways to harness digital media for social goals? What role will Latin America's open source initiatives play in shifting political alignments?

However these issues play out, it's clear that so far, Cubans have energetically taken advantage of every new online opportunity that's come along -- and that's not likely to change.

Image of Yoani Snachez by blogpocket via Flickr

Anne Nelson teaches new media and development communications at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She consults for a number of foundations on media issues, and serves as senior consultant for the Salzburg Global Seminar initiative, Strengthening Independent Media. She was a 2005 Guggenheim fellow for her recent book, "Red Orchestra: the Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of
Friends Who Resisted Hitler."

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How #Spill Effect Brought Color, Collaboration to Media Tweets

Twitter distinguished itself as an important new platform for breaking political news in Australia during the Great #Spill of 2009. This is the second installment in a MediaShift series on the "#spill effect." (You can read the first part here.) It draws on a case study of the event and includes online interviews with eight tweeting journalists who are prominent members of the Canberra Press Gallery.

"#Spill" was the hashtag used to amalgamate Twitter coverage of the scalping of federal conservative leader Malcolm Turnbull, and the elevation of Tony Abbott to the leadership of Australia's opposition party, the Liberal-National Coalition. But behind the frenzied tweeting of the spectacular unraveling of the Turnbull leadership was another story -- a story about the coverage itself, which demonstrated the transformative effect this micro-blogging platform is having on Australian political journalism. It's a story that made news again last week when Malcolm Turnbull announced his resignation from politics, via Twitter, of course.

How Twitter Impacts Australian Reporting

I've concluded that Twitter is having a transformative effect on Australian political reporting -- but not all Press Gallery journalists agree. While acknowledging the emergence of journalistic audience engagement via Twitter, Samantha Maiden, the chief online political correspondent for Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, described it as just another reporting platform. She downplayed the impact of the #spill story on political reporting.

"Ultimately, Twitter is just a means...of delivering the news. In that sense it is silly to suggest [the #spill] reinvented the wheel in some way," she said.


Nevertheless, Latika Bourke, a Press Gallery correspondent for national commercial radio, who watched her Twitter followers double during the week-long story (to more than 2,000), said Twitter's role in the coverage proved it's here to stay as a journalistic tool.

"For many of us, Twitter was the aside, or extra-curricular part of our job; but now there will be the expectation that when the big stories are on, we'll be there, tweeting as a priority," Bourke said.

speers.jpg

Sky TV's David Speers -- who demonstrated the central role of Twitter in the coverage of the story by tweeting live to air in the middle of an interview and using his smartphone to read the tweet of a competitor mid-commentary -- said Twitter adds to the value of coverage and the reporting experience, rather than detracting from them.

"Obviously speeches, debates and essays will always be important," he said. "And they will always be there. Twitter isn't taking anything away from traditional political discourse. It's adding something new. And it's fun."

The Need for Speed & Color

Speed was the most commonly described effect of Twitter on the political reporting process. It even out-paced frenetic radio news reporters. "I thought working in radio [that] I knew what 'instant' meant, but that's been completely redefined now that I've covered the spill via Twitter," Bourke observed.

The Age's political correspondent, Mischa Schubert, agreed that Twitter-speed was a factor in the #spill coverage.

"It accelerated the pace of coverage, that's for sure," she said. "Where once a lot of details would have been hoarded for the next day's newspapers, color that wouldn't hold was broadcast instantly in tweets and on [media organizations'] websites."

The benefits of value-adding tweets with "color" was also highlighted by others. "If you took a straw poll on which journalists were the most popular -- and this was debated by Twitter users -- journalists breaking news with a mix of color and telling observation were always in the top three," Maiden said. "Users aren't that interested in someone who just tweets a couple of lines from a doorstop or the Senate debates."

But some political news reporters are "coloring" outside the lines on Twitter. Australian Associated Press's (AAP) Sandra O'Malley said opinion and commentary are seeping into news reporters' tweets.

sandra.jpg"There was...much more opining on the political players than during 'normal,' straight reporting," O'Malley said of the #spill coverage. She highlighted the impact of the clash of the personal and the professional in the space, and the challenge it poses to traditional journalistic values like objectivity, as I've previously reported.

However, Lyndal Curtis, the chief political correspondent of ABC Radio's current affairs programs, said the act of tweeting political news hasn't altered her reporting habits, such as an unbending commitment to fact-checking; but she's pleased to have "another audience to speak to," and she acknowledges the humanizing effect of tweeting.

"It allows me some more latitude to be a person, and an outlet for some humor," she said. The amusement value of Twitter -- and Press Gallery journalists' tendency to merge satire and reportage in the interests of entertaining one another and their new, individual audiences -- was mentioned by several of the interviewees.

The need for even greater multi-tasking by journalists in the age of the real-time web was also noted.

"One observation that amazed me was watching a few people -- @sarahwiley8 @latikambourke @bennpackham -- standing at doorstops with their digital recorder in one hand and single-handedly tweeting with the other!" O'Malley said.

A number of the journalists commented on the fact that Twitter, with its live reporting capacity and its aggregated news feeds, has enabled them to be less tethered to their desks. They can roam to gather information face-to-face and more accurately assess atmospherics, all while staying informed.

karen middleton tweet.jpg

This, in turn, encouraged the journalists to practice what I've observed elsewhere is the tendency to lay bare reporting the process on Twitter by discussing journalistic strategies, dilemmas and difficulties. In the case of the #spill, this was demonstrated by the journalists complaining about efforts to keep them away from the Coalition Party Room, where Malcolm Turnbull's fate was ultimately sealed.

Twitter Collegiality

One of the strongest themes to emerge from my survey of the eight tweeting Press Gallery reporters who covered #spill was a deepening of relationships between journalists from different media organizations. They spoke of the increased camaraderie and collegiality fostered through the sharing of skills and information.

"We all shared information, respected each other's scoops by re-tweeting them, and [as a result] the relationships and trust between journalists deepened," Bourke said.

crabb.jpgSenior Press Gallery journalist Annabel Crabb agreed, noting that, "It brings competitors closer together, in that we read each other's updates. I certainly was glued to @samanthamaiden, @latikambourke and @David_Speers as well as talking to my own colleagues."

Instead of having to finagle details of their competitors' reporting progress and framing of the story, they just watched their tweet streams. This was particularly beneficial to junior Press Gallery reporters like Bourke, who said she was able to break news of the leadership ballots' likely outcome as a direct result of following the very connected Speers' Twitter feed.

"It was like suddenly having all the pieces to a puzzle that I only needed to put together, instead of having just a few, and trying to paint in the blanks," she said.

Speers was unconcerned by this development.

"Journalists usually save any information they have for the stories they're writing," he said. "But on Twitter, political journalists share what they know. I think this is mostly driven by the competitive urge of journalists to be the first to break news, even if it's only a minor development."

Collaborative Storytelling

This collaborative storytelling between journalists from competing outlets is one of the most significant changes in political reporting that has come as a result of Twitter. As Crabb said:

The fracturing media market means that we now assume our readers are shopping around. I think the healthy aspect of this -- and it's a great outcome for consumers -- is that journalists are dropping the traditional and childish approach of pretending that their competitors do not exist -- ignoring a rival's scoop, and so on. I will happily retweet a competitor's update if I think my readers will find it interesting. I think this is an emerging and refreshing trend.

But, as much as Twitter is breaking down old modes of competitiveness in political reporting, it's also fostering a new, sharper edged form of competition for news-breaking.

"Already, newspapers are racing to bring online updates to their websites ahead of their competitors, but Twitter brings a second-by-second competitiveness that is even more challenging," Crabb said.

And this resulted in media outlets like the ABC running an aggregated tweet-stream (via Twitter lists) of Press Gallery journalists' Twitter feeds, including those from rival outlets, on the ABC website. This caused concern within some sections of the ABC News and Current Affairs department, because journalists from competing networks are not bound by the same editorial policies and standards as ABC reporters. There was a feeling that this aggregation threatened the independence and credibility of ABC News' website content. Legal risks associated with carrying competitors' unchecked and unfiltered tweets were also raised.

Consequences of Kicking Down Walls

There's a potentially significant downside to what Crikey's Bernard Keane identified as Twitter's "flattening effect" for commercial media. He fears it will further undermine traditional media business models.

"What's the point of a newspaper site, or even Sky News, if you can get a direct feed virtually from inside the party room?" he said. "It's true that quality political coverage remains one of the few competitive advantages old media has over new media."

In other words, political reporting may be one of the niche beats that is able to justify pay wall protection -- but the unrestrained sharing of information across media stable walls by competing journalists via Twitter may make that unsustainable.

This was also an issue raised by Lyndal Curtis, ABC Radio's chief political correspondent. "I think it's my responsibility to write and file first for the organization that pays me ... and that audience," she said. "So I didn't put anything up of an exclusive scoop nature on Twitter that I hadn't already filed."

But Speers disagrees.

"It's not like journalists are simply giving away their work," he said. "Their tweets often point to a story they've just posted on a website or broadcast on radio or TV. So it can still direct traffic to the outlet paying their salary."

It's also true that, in the social media age where the real-time web reigns supreme and mashing up information from myriad sources seems like an irreversible trend, news organizations will have to come to terms with this sort of content aggregation and amalgamation in a way which best serves their audiences and their bottom lines.

Backlash from the AAP

In fact, in the aftermath of the publication of first installment of this series on MediaShift, Sandra O'Malley's employer, AAP, issued an edict requiring Press Gallery reporters to get permission prior to tweeting about their work -- even from their personal Twitter accounts. The fear was the wire service's journalistic brand and competitive edge would be eroded by reporters' real-time tweeting and cross-stable collaboration.

The AAP crackdown foreshadows the likely development of anachronistic Reuters-style guidelines for tweeting reporters. Censoring journalists' tweets when they've been at it for many months smacks of trying to re-stable a horse that's bolted, and also raises questions about the rights of journalists to free speech. (The subject of a future post.)

However, while some Press Gallery journalists' coverage of the Twitter effect on political reporting highlights residual pockets of change-resistance, proof of its impact came this week in the form of one of the country's most celebrated political reporters, the 9 Network's Laurie Oakes. He became an active tweeter and filed an insightful mainstream TV news report on the "Twitterization" of Australian politics.

In the third and final installment of this MediaShift series, I'll examine the role of citizen tweeters, participatory democracy and audience engagement in coverage of the #spill, along with the political reporters' management of the issues of accuracy and verification, which are so often seen as downsides of Twitter journalism.

More Reading

The #Spill Effect - Twitter Hashtag Upends Australian Political Journalism

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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4-Minute Roundup: Apple’s iAds; Journo-Programming Degree

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at Apple's plan to enter mobile advertising with its new iAd platform. Apple has been known for hardware and software but has never handled ad sales before, and now finds itself squarely in competition with Google and AdMob in that arena. Plus, Columbia University announced a new dual journalism-programming degree. And I ask Just One Question to AdAge reporter Kunur Patel about her take on the new Apple iAd platform.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio4910.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Kunur Patel:

patel full.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Apple Launches 'iAd,' Mobile Ad Platform for iPhone and iPad at ClickZ

Steve Jobs Promises Developers That Apple's iAds Won't 'Suck' and Will Make Them Money at MediaMemo

Apple's iAd Not Game-Changing, but Will Move Market at AdAge

Apple Unveils New Ad Software for iPhone at Wall Street Journal

Apple Announces Mobile Ad Plans Thursday, and Google Can't Wait to Tell the FTC at MediaMemo

Apple unveils iPhone OS 4.0 at CNET

Apple Unveils Ad Platform and Phone Software at NY Times Bits

Will Columbia-Trained, Code-Savvy Journalists Bridge the Media/Tech Divide? at Wired Epicenter

Columbia's J-School Gears Up A New Generation Of Digital Media Geeks at Business Insider

Columbia Rolls Out Joint Journalism - CompSci Grad Program at FishbowlNY

New dual-degree master's in journalism & computer science announced at Columbia University

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think about ads on your mobile phone:


Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Glaser & Son Review the iPad

The conundrum with the iPad is that it's exciting to consider a sleek new form factor for getting news, movies, TV shows, games and web browsing -- but it's less exciting to be first in line to pay the most for the least. We all know the first version of a technology product costs the most and is missing the most features. So I considered myself lucky to get to play with an iPad on loan before delivering it to someone in Europe (where the iPad isn't available yet). I get to test drive it, but don't have to pay.

So I brought in my junior device expert (and 7-year-old son) Julian Glaser to help me compare the new iPad to the Kindle 2 and the iPhone. Julian helped me test out the Kindle 2 in a Glaser & Son review on MediaShift last year. While I was interested in how web surfing, typing and news apps looked on the iPad, he was more keen on gaming and reading books.

We braved the masses mid-week at the Stonestown Galleria Apple Store in San Francisco, where the 16GB models quickly sold out. We settled for the 32GB model for $599 along with a $40 case. The store was filled with high school kids hanging out after school who wanted to test drive iPads, but not buy them. The Apple Store was starting to look like the bowling alley arcades from my childhood.

Julian had not experienced the iPad hype, and had no idea what it was all about.

"So it's like a big iPhone but it lets you read books?" he asked.

"No, you can actually read books on an iPhone too. There is a Kindle app on the iPhone," I told him.

"Oh yeah, I've seen that," he said. "But what kind of games are on the iPad?"

Julian had already spent hours on my iPhone playing games and downloading his favorite free ones (and earning money with chores to buy paid apps). So we gave the iPad a spin, downloading some games, news apps, and books -- paying for some, and getting others for free. Below is our first take on what we liked and didn't like with the iPad, and how it stacked up against the Kindle 2 and iPhone.

Design/Interface

There is no instruction manual for the iPad because you don't need one. If you've used an iPhone or iPod Touch, you know exactly what does what on the iPad. There's the volume switch, the main (or "home") button on the bottom front, and the place to plug it in or connect it to your computer. One new switch lets you lock the portrait/landscape flip that happens when you rotate it. Otherwise, it's all simple and neat. Similarly, the iPhone operating system is familiar and easy to navigate.

When I pushed the front button mistakenly in trying to turn it on, Julian grabbed it and pushed the Power switch and laughed at my mistake. About the only design flaw we found was the weight of the iPad, which feels heavy after a lot of reading. Perhaps future iPads will have lighter batteries. And the virtual keyboard takes time to master, being bigger than the iPhone virtual keyboard and smaller than a regular keyboard. However, I got over my initial frustration with the iPhone keyboard, and figure the same would be true with the iPad's -- practice over time would make it easier.

Games

julian labyrinth.jpg

Julian's major concern was the games. Would they have what he wanted, and would he have to pay for them (with my money)? He quickly navigated the App Store to find the category of his choice (free games), and downloaded Labyrinth Lite HD, Fast & Furious Lite, iPlay Bowling, Air Hockey and his iPhone fave, Rat on the Run. The quick downloads and big screen were a great combination, meaning he'd get to gaming faster.

The Labyrinth game was an inventive take on the old Wooden Labyrinth tilt maze where you try to keep the metal ball from rolling into holes in the top. This game included magnets, cannons shooting at you, and buttons that opened gates. We were both hooked on it. Julian's favorite iPhone game, Rat on the Run, gave him a lot of enjoyment, even though it was basically ported over and didn't have anything new on the iPad. Even without iPad-specific features, the games wowed us just by offering more screen space and vibrant colors.

Here's Julian's take on games while playing Air Hockey:

News Apps and Browsing

I was curious about the various news apps for the iPad, so I downloaded apps from the New York Times, ABC, NPR, BBC, USA Today and Reuters. The only magazine app I saw was the Time magazine app for $4.99 per issue. I liked that the N.Y. Times and USA Today apps used the bigger screen real estate to mimic the look of a print newspaper, with stories laid out on what looked like a front page. By clicking on the first couple paragraphs of a story, you could see the whole story. That alone was a bonus in reading on the iPad vs. the iPhone, where you'd need about 10 finger swipes to get to the bottom of a story. On the iPad, in many cases, the whole story filled the page.

What I didn't get to experience was a news app that really used the iPad in an innovative way, combining text, video, audio and photos in an integrated manner. Sure, Reuters did have video alongside stories, but they seemed more web-like than app-like. I did enjoy USA Today's "Day in Pictures" feature, as those photos really popped on the iPad. What was more surprising was how good it looked to just fire up Safari and browse news sites like NYTimes.com, where the videos played without a hitch. Being able to double-touch to make text bigger or smaller worked easily. I did notice that videos didn't load correctly on the CBSNews.com home page.

Books

kindle vs ipad small.jpg

Is the iPad really a Kindle-killer, as we'd heard? There's no doubt that when we put the iPad side-by-side next to our Kindle 2, it made the Amazon device look like an old TV set from the '50s. The black-and-white Kindle looked gray and old next to the color iPad with its massive screen. While we didn't read long enough on the iPad to know if the backlit screen would cause our eyes to hurt, we did know from experience reading on the iPhone that it wasn't too bad for a few hours.

On the positive side, reading books was easy and pages turned with ease. Picture books for kids looked much better in color on the iPad, and images were laid out within the text. On the Kindle 2, many picture books had strange formatting that broke up images from the text. On the not-so-good side, Julian couldn't find most of the books he wanted in the iBooks app, and ended up settling for a Berenstain Bears book about Sunday School. Search after search came up blank for him in the iBookstore. But both of us liked all the free books that were available because their copyright had expired.

Hear Julian talk about why he liked reading books on the iPad more than on the Kindle:

Screen

The big screen on the iPad is simply gorgeous, and makes it easily the device of choice when it comes to movies, games, photo-viewing and even web browsing. It's tough for the iPhone to compete with the iPad when it comes to all that multimedia entertainment. It seems like a natural for viewing shows or movies on the road for kids, but the bummer is that there's no way for it to play DVDs. I noticed that it does get fingerprinted up pretty badly after a serious Julian gaming session, but I don't really see the fingerprints so much when the iPad is on. Having a case that lets you stand the iPad up on a table could make a difference in reading newspaper or magazine content at breakfast, or watching a movie on the go.

Pricing

There are two ways to look at the pricing of the iPad: 1) It's too expensive for what it can and can't do. Other devices can do all the things an iPad does. 2) It's cheaper than most laptops and can do most of the things a laptop can do, while taking up less space. So perhaps the iPad fits in the category of "netbook" as a compact laptop, but it has no physical keyboard. There's a better chance people will opt for an iPad when they have more disposable income, the features improve, the prices drop, and their other devices become outmoded.

Bottom Line

The iPad is a simple-to-use, elegant device that takes the tablet computing genre and does it better than anyone else. The battery life is long and impressive, and the speed at startup and while using apps is better than any laptop around. It is missing some key elements such as a camera, USB port, Flash support, expandable memory and swappable battery, but it's possible those features will come in time.

The iPad is a bundle of possibilities and potential. While the first apps out of the gate were decent, it's the apps that will make the iPad a must-have for a broader group of people. While news apps look great, especially with integrated photos and video, there's still a wide range of "what ifs" to come that could get people to pay more for traditional journalism. The biggest one being: What if the news experience on the iPad was really built for multimedia, really built for interactivity and really worth paying for?

And the bottom line for Julian was what came out of his mouth when I asked him if he wanted to use the iPad before he went to school yesterday morning: "iPad! iPad! iPad!" He was hooked.

Hear Julian sing his iPad song:

More Reading

Apple iPad Review - Laptop Killer? Pretty Close at AllThingsD

Apple iPad WiFi review at PC Magazine

iPad Reviews - The Good, Bad, and Ecstatic at PC World

Review - iPad Apps Cool, but How Many Will You Buy? by AP

Looking at the iPad From Two Angles at NY Times

Verdict is in on Apple iPad - It's a winner at USA Today

What do you think about the iPad, if you've had a chance to review it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Navigating Media Ethics and Censorship in Dubai

Around the world, dozens of organizations, from Freedom House to Reporters Without Borders, advance the ideal of a free press and a free citizenry. The ideal suggests there is one type of free press to be secured globally: the Western model of a constitutionally protected free press.

What stands over and against the free press? The typical examples are the media systems found in China or Burma.

But this thinking is too simple for a global age. The attempt to develop a free press follows different pathways in different regions. New ways of combining media freedom and responsibility are evolving.

Consider the impressive development of media in the more liberal Arab states, such as Dubai. Rather than quote statistics, I will describe one journalist in Dubai who experiences daily the tensions at work as the Arab media evolve.

"Freedom" Within Limits

nightline.jpgIt is 10 p.m. in Dubai and I am a guest on Nightline, Dubai's English-language radio talk show.

The host is James Piecowye, whose studio is in the radio station DubaiEye, 103.8 FM, which is part of Arabian Radio Network. The network is one of the largest media conglomerates in the Middle East and is owned by the ruling family of Dubai.

Piecowye is a Canadian who earned a doctorate in communication from the University of Montreal. He arrived in the United Arab Emirates a decade ago to teach at Zayed University, a college for Emirati women. About four years ago, he tried radio broadcasting after deciding that Dubai's English radio was a "wasteland" of classic rock and pop stations.

Radio, and especially talk radio, is new to Dubai. Before 1971, there was no locally operated radio in the region. Citizens relied on the BBC, Radio America, and stations in Lebanon and Jordan. When radio was established, a Western style was often adopted. Each night, on air, Piecowye carefully walks a tightrope between the listeners who call in and the state officials who monitor the show.

Some boundaries are clear: Topics such as homosexuality, drugs, prostitution, abortion, and religion are taboo. When Dubai World announced recently it was $40 billion in debt, shocking the markets, Piecowye could not discuss the problem on his show. Even discussion of lifestyles, such as dating, is sensitive in a country that outlaws kissing in public.

Still, Piecowye manages to provide interesting discussions using officials, scholars, and professors to discuss sanitation, traffic, education, and tonight's topic -- media ethics. He finds inventive ways to discuss sensitive topics.

For example, he cannot ask callers to discuss the drug problem. But he can invite the chief of the Dubai narcotics division to discuss what the division is doing to combat drugs. Back in Canada or the United States, using only comments from officials is considered one-sided and, well, boring. In Dubai, it is a way of putting the issue into the public sphere.

Working Without a Net

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Yet, despite these precautions, any show can be cause for worry. "Offensive" is a terribly subjective word and concept, even in a country with strict laws.

"Often, I am never really sure where the line is between offending and not offending, and who will take offensive to what," said Piecowye.

Having grown up with CBC Radio, the Canadian public broadcaster, Piecowye added: "I attempt to bring Canadian journalism values into my show." He takes on the role of the neutral CBC-like moderator who seeks facts and reasoned discussion.

But here is the kicker: Piecowye works without a tape delay. Offensive comments by guests or his callers potentially can go straight to air. Luckily, this has rarely happened.

And what happens when officials do not approve of something on Nightline? The radio station gets a call from a well-placed person who expresses official displeasure. Such calls are taken very seriously. Violations of media laws in Dubai can lead to jail or swift deportation.

The danger is always there: One seriously offensive broadcast and Piecowye's decade of service to Zayed University and Dubai could be in jeopardy.

So, on this night, I and three other international ethicists engage in discussion with Piecowye about global media ethics, the theme of a conference we are attending. We talk in general terms about what global media ethics is, and how media can be made more responsible. We are fully aware that there is no tape delay. No one wants to get Piecowye in trouble by uttering an offensive comment or by raising a taboo topic.

I find myself, like Piecowye, dancing with the sheiks and their monitoring officials -- at least in my imagination. I find myself rephrasing comments before they come out of my mouth. Nonetheless, our group has a lively discussion on media freedom and responsibility, without directly attacking media restrictions in Dubai.

Negotiating Freedom

Piecowye later recounted an on-air anecdote that captured the experience. "One night I was struggling to not say something that couldn't be said, and I got a text message from a listener," he said. "The person wrote, 'We know what you're trying to say, so why don't you just SAY it!' "

This experience of "saying some things but not saying everything" defines the working conditions of many journalists in Dubai and other Arab countries. It is not full media freedom but it is not insignificant, either. It should not be dismissed as odious self-censorship. It is an important and evolving experiment that runs counter to hundreds of years of tradition.

Dubai's Nightline shows that we need a nuanced understanding of how to advance media freedom globally; there is no master plan.

The evolution of media freedom will depend on the country's media laws, the culture's tolerance of free speech, and local definitions of what is appropriate and what is offensive.
In many countries, journalists will negotiate for increasing freedom, and learn to navigate around limits. In the new "hybrid" globalized societies, such as Dubai, media freedom will take on hybrid forms.

There is no guarantee that liberalizing forces will win; and no predicting how far they will advance. There is no saying how this dance will end.

But Piecowye and other journalists continue to expand the boundaries of media freedom, working pragmatically within the limits of law and society.

Stephen J. A. Ward is the James E. Burgess Professor of Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists' (CAJ) ethics advisory committee and former director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism.

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How Much Would You Pay for iPad News Apps?

So you've plopped down $499 (or more) for a shiny new iPad from Apple. You've connected iTunes to the device and now you've visited the App Store. But now comes the question: How much more will you pay for news apps? Some of them are free, like the USA Today app, while some offer limited selection like the New York Times app, eventually charging you for the app or for regular content updates (e.g. the Time magazine app). So how much would you shell out for news apps? You can answer the poll below or give a more detailed answer in comments. And if you are sick of reading about the iPad, let us know that too!


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How Technology Changed American Politics in the Internet Age

The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign drew the attention of the world. In the aftermath, the Obama campaign's use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were widely credited with helping secure the historic victory of President Barack Obama.

But the Obama campaign wouldn't have been able to make its technological strides without the innovations first deployed by the Howard Dean campaign years before; and, in turn, the designers of the Dean campaign made sure to study the technology lessons of Jessie Ventura's successful gubernatorial run.

The dawn of the Internet era and introduction of technologies such as email lists and social media have had a remarkable impact on American politics. Below are some highlights, game-changing moments, and other uses of technology that stand as significant moments in political history.

The Internet Era

An early moment in any timeline about modern tech development in politics is the February 1997 creation of the GOP Internet forum FreeRepublic. To put it in perspective, 1998 was the year Google was founded. It was also the year that MoveOn was created for progressives as a political community formed in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Another early note: I would be remiss not to include the now famous 1999 Al Gore interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition," when the the vice president declared, "I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth." Though technically not claiming credit for the Internet, Gore's comments would become famous.

2000

Following Sen. John McCain's 2000 primary win in New Hampshire, the New York Times ran a story with this headline: His Success in New Hampshire Brings McCain an Overnight Infusion of Cybercash. The story cited figures released by the McCain campaign that suggested he raised more than $500,000 over the Internet in less than 24 hours after the polls closed. This was a significant moment for online fundraising.

The 2000 election year saw the Bush campaign make innovative use of phone bank technology for get-out-the-vote initiatives. It also used email lists to drive voters to action.

That campaign year was notable for the use of online ads. A study from AdRelevance, Nielsen Online's service that tracks advertising activity, was reported in USA Today on October 30, 2000. It suggested that "Republicans used a more 'targeted' approach, while Democrats relied on a 'broad reach' effort. The Republicans, for example, ran more than 20 unique banners on 35 sites...the Democrats achieved all their exposure with a single banner ad on Yahoo."

The AdRelevance study also reported that Republicans used online marketing tools to build a database of 700,000 names.

2001

2001 saw the emergence of popular political websites such as the Libertarian-leaning Instapundit and liberal community website MyDD. The latter was established by Jerome Armstrong, who would go on to work on Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Armstrong's writing on MyDD also featured one of the first references to the online-based political activism term "netroots."

2002

2002 saw the rise of one of the web's most popular bloggers, Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos. Two years later, Moulitsas would be among the first bloggers given press credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

2003

February 2003 saw a tectonic shift in how political campaigns are run, thanks to the rise of Howard Dean and his campaign's use of Meetup to empower supporters to self-organize. The Dean campaign also created a YouTube-like online video site call Dean TV, experimented with SMS, used an online event tool called Get Local, and created a pre-Facebook-style site called Deanlink, among other pioneering innovations.

"We fell into this by accident," Dean told Wired magazine. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."

According to the Wired piece, in February 2003 there were 11 Dean meetings around the country organized through Meetup. By late fall, there were more than 800 monthly meetings on the calendar.

Zephyr-Teachout.gifZephyr Teachout, director of Internet organizing for Dean For America, told me that of all the online tools experimented with and deployed during the campaign, the meeting tool was the most exciting.

"The meeting tool was completely opposed internally when we started designing it in May 2003," she said. "If you ask people what [they] do for a candidate, now I think most people know that they can go to events and get other people to support them whereas 10 years ago it wouldn't even be possible. It's really changed people's sense of possibility in terms of their potential interaction with a campaign."

Another significant technical innovation in 2003 came when Arizona became the first state to implement online voter registration.

2004

2004 saw the launch of the successful Democratic online fundraising outfit ActBlue. The summer of 2004 was also marked by the Rock the Vote campaign that registered an estimated 1.2 million new voters. The campaign included a partnership with Motorola that launched a large-scale mobile political project which enabled people to sign up to receive information on their mobile devices.

That same year, the Washington Times had reported in August that Daily Kos received about 200,000 visitors a day during the Democratic National Convention.

And on September 9, bloggers for the right-leaning site Power Line published a post suggesting Dan Rather's "60 Minutes II" report on George W. Bush's National Guard service included some fraudulent memos. The post and the more than 500 other sites that linked to it are credited with exposing the report and later causing CBS News to apologize, leading to Dan Rather's resignation. Time Magazine named Power Line Blog of the Year.

2005

In early 2005, three former PayPal employees, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim created YouTube. The popular video sharing site has significantly changed political campaigns, by allowing citizens to post their own video from campaign events, including politicians making faux pas.

By May of 2005 a new site called The Huffington Post was launched by Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, and Jonah Peretti that would add a new dynamic to online political coverage.

Today, politicians with blogs are very common, but in 2005 Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston established the first Congressional blog with the help of rising GOP Internet guru David All.

In 2005, another GOP Internet tech star, Patrick Ruffini, the webmaster for the 2000 Bush campaign, launched the highly successful "eCampaign" operation while at the Republican National Committee.

2006

By 2006, political campaigns online were widespread and in full force. In June, one of the first to test out the use of YouTube for their campaign was Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston. He posted a video of what his campaign called Mailtube, an attempt to reach out to constituents through the use of online video.

YouTube started to take hold of the political imagination when, on August 15, 2006, then Sen. George Allen (R-VA) called opposition campaign volunteer S.R. Sidarth "macaca." The video went viral and is seen as a major turning point that led to Allen's electoral defeat.

2006 was also the year that the Rightroots coalition was created to support GOP candidates online. The site raised over $300,000 for different candidates.

2007

Zephyr Teachout said the initial use of most technologies is not where it ends up having an impact. She cites the Dean campaign's use of Meetup and email as examples. Echoing this point, 2007 saw some of the most notable uses of technology in political campaigns. One example is how Barack Obama's team took the social networking suite developed by the Dean campaign to a new level with Blue State Digital's creation of My.BarackObama.com.

Facebook gave rise to an enormous constituency of political activity in 2008, and upstart Twitter dipped its toes in the campaign waters. One of the biggest tech innovations of the year came on July 23, when CNN held the first YouTube Debate for the Democrats in Charleston, S.C. The Dems were followed by the GOP's November 28 YouTube Debate in St. Petersburg, Fla.

2007 also saw an innovative use of distributed online video by Mike Huckabee's campaign for the GOP nomination. Ron Paul, building on Howard Dean's pioneering fundraising efforts, created the money bomb which raised $4.3 million in 24 hours on November 5 largely through online donations. Paul did it again on Dec. 16 when his campaign brought in $6 million in 24 hours, which Fox News called the biggest one-day take ever.

In other 2007 notes, Slatecard was created by David All and Sendhil Panchadsaram as a website that funneled contributions to conservative candidates. All also started the group blog TechRepublican, focusing on the intersection of Republican politics and technology. (In April 2009, TechRepublican was awarded the Golden Dot Award for the Best Blog in National Politics).

Another tech innovation launched in 2007 was the Ustream.tv platform for live online interactive video broadcasts. The technology was been widely used by politicians, including by Barack Obama when he appeared with Oprah during a South Carolina rally which included 74,000 participants.

2008

Supported by online campaigning, the Democrats had a good election year in 2008, taking large majorities in both houses of Congress and celebrating the election of Barack Obama.

Tech innovations played a big role in the election successes of the Dems. One notable highlight was the August 28 text from the Obama campaign:

"Breaking news: the text message is out and it's official... Barack Obama has selected Joe Biden to be his running mate!"

In October 2008, the Obama campaign released its free Obama08 app, which organized a person's iPhone contacts to enable supporters to call friends located in important electoral districts among other features.

While much of the attention in 2008 was on the Democrats, in the spring of 2008 The Next Right was formed as a GOP imitation of the huge left-wing community Daily Kos and MyDD.

In other significant tech innovations, Facebook Connect was launched in July. Connect is a set of APIs from Facebook that enables Facebook members to log onto third-party websites. The release of the API paved the way for the David All Group development of the award winning Act.ivi.st, which integrates with a campaign and sends out messages to the online communities including Facebook and Twitter.

David-All.gif"The idea of web surfing is so dead," All told me. "Once you get people to a website, it's rare they are going to go back too often. But, every single day they are going to be logging into Facebook and they are going to be engaging with that community. So if your news can be liked or commented on and engaged with it is really powerful."

2009

After one of the biggest election years in modern history, in March 2009 New York's 20th congressional district held a special election. Democrat Scott Murphy's successful run was supported by a new tech innovation from Google, the Google Blast Advertising Campaign, which blanketed sites running Google AdSense with Murphy ads targeted to people in his district.

2010

With elections fast approaching, we're bound to see new kinds of tech innovation that will turn heads this year. I recently wrote here on MediaShift about how the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts was aided by a smartphone app created for GOP candidates called Walking Edge. It offered Brown's canvassers a database of where undecided voters and supporters live. The app used geo-location tools and Google Maps so that after canvassers made contact with a person, they could update the database in real time.

The Walking Edge falls squarely in what Zephyr Teachout describes as the "data oligarch" model, which is designed to create massive databases. But Teachout said there is also the potneital for the Internet to allow for more civic organizing.

"[The Internet is] one of the greatest collective action problem-solving tools in world history," Teachout said. "These are constantly in tension with each other."

What do you think of the milestones in our list? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.

Steven Davy is a freelance journalist, and freelance radio reporter/producer. He regularly covers the defense industry and security related issues for UPI. Additionally, he hosts a current affairs newsmagazine radio show called the Nonchalant Café Hour which broadcasts live in Kalamazoo, Mich. Steven recently created Exploring Conversations as a multimedia website examining the language of music for his graduate thesis project at Michigan State University.

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