The President’s China Trip Will Be Twittered, But Not By Obama

obama_blackberry_1108272cAmidst all the chatter about the upcoming Week of Palin, you may have noted that President Obama is part way through an important trip to Asia. The President, and the press corp. traveling with him, landed in China Sunday and are scheduled to depart Tuesday. Yesterday the President addressed a group of students about the importance of a free and unfettered Internet; the Chinese place strict rules on how much information is available online, and many sites we take for granted here are banned there, for example, Twitter, something the President has apparently never used:

Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter. My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.

Really? Isn’t this the President who refused to turn over his Blackberry? Hmm. At any rate, the ban on Twitter is providing something of a challenge to the Twitter happy press corp, who over the past 24 hrs have been attempting to access the site through various means. This from today’s Playbook:

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES – With Twitter blocked from our laptops here at the Shanghai filing center (Burton, don’t be getting any ideas), @JakeTapper is tweeting from his ‘Berry. @EdHenry found a workaround with TwitPic: ‘We’re fighting the power.’ @ChuckTodd figured out how to update through his PING.FM account. Chuck e-mails from the transmission pool next door: ‘i posted a ‘if you can see this update on twitter/facebook’ let me know… and got deluged with friendly acknowledgments. The revolution can still be twittered thanks to the ping dynasty!’ (Also blocked:, which is why we’re using tinyurl as our URL shortener today.)

A number of member’s of the press corp have twittered out that they aren’t sure whether their tweets are getting through because they can’t access the site, says Time’s Michael Scherer: “Twitter is blocked in China. I won’t know if anyone sees this message (sent from cell phone) until we get to South Korea.” However, it seems so far, so good. Below is a look at the tweets coming from the top Twitterers currently traveling with the President. (It updates every time the screen is refreshed.)


Has Sarah Palin Finally Mastered The Web? Wall Street Journal Floored By Her Facebook

Picture 2The former governor of Alaska has had her share of ups and downs with the internet. On one hand, she led the political field with major moves on Facebook and Twitter, only to fall out of online relevance as quickly as she appeared. The key to this internet thing is consistency, Mrs. Palin! And here’s another hint: no one actually uses LinkedIn.

Last month, our own Glynnis MacNicol wondered “Um, Who Is Running Sarah Palin’s Social Media Dept.?” noting that the feisty polician may very well deserve the “Internet crown” — “That is if her new media staff can get their act together!” But it’s clear the potential was there, and that’s why we’ve kept our eyes peeled, bracing for her triumphant return.

And it seems that the release of her memoir Going Rogue is just what she needed to catalyze her itchy blogging fingers. It’s sort of like when your boyfriend broke up with you and you realized “I should really be using my Tumblr more!” It’s purposeful and it’s therapeutic.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Palin’s publicity team has been making deliberate gains in the online arena:

Among the features of this new strategy: buying Internet advertising based on Google searches of her name, and using Facebook as a key means of communicating with voters. Her team also has considered filing libel suits against bloggers who spread rumors about her family.

Bloggers beware! But as Gawker’s Foster Kamer noted Saturday, sometimes the keyboard-reliant fight back, as with the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, who the Journal piece singles out as a sworn enemy of Ex-Gov. “Ms. Palin considered pursuing a libel suit against at least one blogger,” the Journal states, only to have Sullivan shoot back:

Sources with access to Palin have indeed told to me that the Wasilla whack-job was an obsessive reader of this blog as it dared to ask factual questions about her past that could be easily answered.

Gawker’s take? “[H]e basically goes for the jugular while victory dancing on her face.”

Palin is, of course, also using that old hat “traditional media” to push her tome — Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and all, or so we’ve heard. But when it comes to the world wide web — that’s where Palin deserves a newspaper feature aimed at old people!

A page on Facebook, the social-networking Web site, became Ms. Palin’s main sounding board. Nearly one million people have “friended” her. The page is accessible to people who aren’t Facebook members.

Wait until the Sarah Palin 2012 “iPhone” app.

Media140 Brings Old and New Media Together, With Explosive Results

Over 300 people gathered under the Media140 banner in a concert hall at Australia's national public broadcaster ABC in Sydney last week to consider the future of journalism in the social media age.

Media140 is a newly formed global collaboration of journalists, academics and social media practitioners that is staging conferences around the world. The goal is to examine the impact of the real-time web on news and media industries. It was founded in the UK last February by media worker Andrew Gregson. (Disclosure: I was the editorial director for Media140 Australia. Profits from the event will be donated to The Big Issue, a magazine designed to empower the homeless.)

Our conference at the bottom of the world rose to No. 4 on Twitter's trending topics after just a few hours. Issues on the agenda included the role of Twitter in reporting the Iran uprising; professional and ethical guidelines for journalists using social media; and how political reporting is being changed by journalists' adoption of social media platforms.

The gathering tested some professional journalists' assertions about the threat to quality reporting allegedly posed by Twitter. It also challenged claims on the territory made by social media experts. In the end, we established that Twitter is the platform propelling Australian journalists into the social media age, while also broadening the base of the movement to reinvent journalism.

The line-up featured some of Australia's most respected and prolific journalists, academics and bloggers. Tensions arose on stage and online during the conference between old rivals, over newly contested territory, and in pursuit of redefinitions of journalism. While hundreds mingled at the ABC, hundreds more participated online via Twitter, a live ABC webcast, a Ustream video feed, and live blogging.

The ABC of Social Media Guidelines

media140 mark scott twitter slide.jpg

The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, was the first keynote speaker. He used the event to launch the most progressive social media policy that I've seen from a large media organization.

"I wanted to title my talk 'Making This Up as We Go Along'... because to a degree that's what we're doing," he said.

Essentially, the simple guidelines empower ABC employees to freely use social networking sites and tools for professional and personal purposes, with the rider that they be careful not to undermine their professional practice, nor their employer's reputation. The policy outlined four key rules:

* Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
* Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.

* Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.

* Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

"We need to experiment and we need to give our staff the space to experiment," Scott said.

The new ABC guidelines strongly contrast with the position adopted by the Australian Financial Review, which recently banned its staff from using Twitter professionally. (In a forthcoming MediaShift post, I'll analyze Australian media outlets' attempts to negotiate ethics and professionalism in this new territory).

Scott has dragged his staff -- some kicking and screaming -- into the social media age. He acknowledges that these new platforms are part of the public broadcaster's future. In his Media140 address, he pointed out that Twitter is just another "t" in a progression from telegraph to telephone to telex, and so on. He also showed how Twitter could easily fit within the realm of breaking news by offering tweet-length posts for some of the major stories of the past century.

Nevertheless, skepticism remains. The ABC's most senior political reporter, Chris Uhlmann (christened by the ABC chief the "Harpo Marx of Twitter" for his virtually mute state in the sphere), said, "I just don't see how I could verify sources from Twitter."

There were pockets of internal resistance to the ABC's involvement in Media140. But as the conference progressed, I heard that many journalists at the public broadcaster were watching the feed from their desks. Some of them eventually ventured onto the conference floor, while others contacted me after the conference was over.

The challenge now for progressive industry leaders like Mark Scott is to adequately support journalists so they can use social media as an integral part of their beat. As the ABC radio's chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis blogged during the conference, many already over-laden journalists are simply "too tired to tweet!"

Tweeting Politics and the Clash of the Titans

As I reported earlier this year, there has been a veritable explosion of Australian journalists in the Twittersphere. Today, Twitter is changing the way political reporters interact, and has broken a century-long tradition that prohibited live reporting from the Australian parliamentary chambers.

As the Sydney Morning Herald's Annabel Crabb told the conference, reporters are tweeting the daily Question Time sessions. Journalists are using Twitter to interact with each another and a broadening base of engaged civic tweeters. People are even challenging politicians via tweets as debates play out on the floor of the House.

media140 stage.jpg

While some journalists and organizations move forward, working on building new audiences by engaging through social media, conflict is emerging between publishers like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and public broadcasters such as the ABC and the BBC. Mark Scott recently compared Murdoch's last grasps at control -- re-erecting pay walls and, as of this week, musing about blocking content from Google -- with the desperation of an emperor experiencing the fall of Rome.

On stage at Media140, the award-winning author and journalist, Caroline Overington expressed genuine alarm at the rising, monopolistic power of public broadcasters like the ABC in the new media landscape. She launched into a strident defense of Murdoch (whom she described as "benevolent") and his vision for newspapers.

She also revealed a hint of company strategy by indicating News Corp.'s plans were also linked to the development of a media consumption device, which is now facetiously being referred to in Australia as the iRupert or the Ru-pod. Overington also challenged rival, Annabel Crabb, with assertion that the Sydney Morning Herald, a Murdoch competitor, was in very dire financial straits.

That drew the retort from Crabb: "I think it is wonderful that your survival strategy depends on the robust genes of a 78-year-old... We are not in as much trouble as you will be once your great leader drops off the twig." Cue peals of laughter. (You can view the entire panel on Social Media and Political Reporting here.)

The Mass Media as the Masses' Media

One academic speaker told the conference that "the hoards are at the castle gates." I took this analogy further in my closing remarks at Media140. From my perspective, the masses aren't just threatening to storm the castle -- they've overrun it. Mass media has become the masses' media. Unless the mainstream media wants to be left behind to starve, it needs to join the revolution and figure out new ways of funding, filtering and curating stories to ensure the hard work of journalism -- shining a light in dark places -- can continue to be done.

"For the first time in human evolution we are co-creating the human narrative, never again will our histories be held hostage to the victors, our stories forgotten, unwritten, unscribed," said social media activist Laurel Papworth.

media140 jayrosen.jpg

This point was driven home in the question-and-answer session that followed a presentation delivered via Skype by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. During his talk, Rosen outlined a clarion vision for journalism in the social media age via 10 key points. Then a journalist in attendance got up and expressed fear about giving the "audience" the reins.

"If you don't have a democratic heart, you don't belong in journalism in the first place," Rosen said.

Media140 Sydney was an attempt to bridge the gap between the mainstream and the fringes, to negotiate change, and to provide a platform for the collaborative reinvention of journalism. Thousands of tweets, many new connections, and a few minor brawls later, the global conversation -- in newsrooms, on Twitter and blogs -- continues to reap dividends for journalism's reinvention.

In the coming weeks I'll outline more of the lessons learned and the progress being made in the wake of Media140. But, for now, the last word should go to SBS online news and current affairs editor, Valerio Veo, who told Media140 "I am the bastard child of old and new media... like a child of a broken home -- [I] care deeply for both my divorced parents, despite their temporary differences."

Images by neeravbhatt via Flickr

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The Whitney’s Re-Design: Web Done (Nearly) Right

I don’t envy those who have to redesign the website for a museum – balancing institutional structure and needs with the requirement that it reflect the appropriate aesthetic. Moreover, the process of transitioning a sensibility to the web in itself requires decisions about what the organization represents – a staid, classical collection would justifiably be nervous about embracing an open engagement of the general public.

The Metropolitan Museum, for example, probably won’t be holding a contest on YouTube any time soon. Its website, which looks like it was created by a medium sized corporation in 2002, is staid, muted, and tucked behind a splash screen. The Museum of Modern Art’s website, by contrast, is, well, modern, with a palette and structure that would bore Mies van der Rohe. It’s the Obama of websites – so cool, it’s dull.

Late last night, the Whitney Museum of American Art, known for its modern and contemporary exhibitions and its Biennial, unveiled the latest example from this world. It’s a great improvement over what was there yesterday, though that’s a low hurdle to conquer. Yesterday, the site was a card catalog. Today, it’s a website.

What establishes the Whitney’s new site as a success is not the aesthetic revamping with which, frankly, I’m not impressed. Various elements are laid in a casual grid, anchored by the logo, nice and big, at the top. The navigation is awkward, with elements jumping to the head of the line to show additional options once clicked. The background is either black or white, in order to accommodate a conceptually interesting feature in which it changes when the sun in New York rises or sets. (That would be at 4:41 this afternoon or 6:40 tomorrow morning for those wanting to witness it.) As I said – conceptually interesting. In practice, though, it tends to make the site feel a bit flat, and perusing the collection is negatively impacted by the black background. (White borders would do wonders.)

That’s particularly a shame, because said perusal and its accompanying tools are the real hook to the site. The collection itself is easy to navigate and well indexed. Every page, one notices, has at the bottom a small dot which, when clicked, adds an item to your “custom collection” (assuming you take advantage of the free registration, which you ought to do). This is not unique – the afore-mentioned MoMA site has a similar function – but the Whitney takes it further. When, above, I said every page, I meant every page. In addition to works of art, you can add artists, site elements, upcoming exhibits, even the contact page. Collections are an opportunity to interact with more than the art – you can in essence create your own museum website.

The site takes this sensibility of casual curatorship further – collections, here, are meant to be shared. Which, of course, they should be. In a time when creating and updating our Facebook pages is de rigeur, we ought to expect a museum to allow us to do the same. (You’re welcome to enjoy my nascent collection – the Levitt photo in particular is fantastic.) This feature also exists on the MoMA site, but passively. The Whitney envisions teachers assembling relevant study aides, families preparing for visits to the museums – the various ways in which people seek to assemble and distribute information, and learn about what an institution has to offer.

“Membership is one of the many ways you can connect with the institution,” notes Jeffrey Levine, the Whitney’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. “The site is really designed so that if you’re not familiar with the Whitney and you want to start understanding what we are, maybe you start with Facebook or Twitter or Flickr, and its one of the ways you can deepen this connection with this institution.” This is exactly right. Employing Facebook, Twitter and other similar tools as inlets for engagement is employing them correctly. Facilitating sharing of the art facilitates engagement with the Whitney which, the Whitney certainly hopes, leads to visits and memberships.

While the museum encourages sharing collections, even displaying a large how-to that sits aside them, it hasn’t taken this idea as far as it should. Collections should be a Facebook application that I can display on my page, or a widget for my blog. They ought to have an RSS feed or API so I can re-purpose their contents. And they really, really ought to be used to inform the museum about my tastes and awareness – but, according to Levine, the Museum isn’t currently planning on doing so, citing privacy concerns. The Whitney’s collection isn’t as large as others, of course, but imagine how much could be learned by seeing what pieces people group together, which site utilities they find the most interesting, which exhibits are most resonant. There could be a virtually curated exhibition culled from and arranged according to trends in collections. The possibilities that could stem from becoming the Netflix (or the Twitter lists) of the art world are enticing – and ones that an institution seeking to build its membership should consider.

To the museum’s credit, the sensibility of openness that leads to the collection concept works on both sides of the site database – content is added and edited using a distributed, wiki-style content management system (CMS) unique to Linked by Air, the design firm responsible for the new Whitney site. Given that part of the goal of the new site was to remove the “silos” that Levine indicates marred the previous iteration, allowing a broad range of museum employees to contribute directly to it assures currency, accuracy – and staff ownership.

“The technology [behind the wiki CMS] really wasn’t what interested us. I think it was really the approach, and the ability to decentralize content entry and put a process together that worked for the museum,” notes Levine. “Where there were content experts, they could work directly on the site. Where there were staff members who wanted to speak directly to a specific audience segment, they could have a much more direct connection with the public.” Again: correct. While not right for every solution, for an institution with a widely distributed base of knowledge and a constantly evolving product line (so to speak), building a database on a wiki framework shows a great deal of awareness about proper web practices.

The new site seems unfinished; for example, the page for the famed Biennial returns a “NOT FOUND” error. What is there, however, is a great step forward in engaging the public with the institution (while protecting the Museum’s brand), and reflects well the nature of the Whitney – innovative, technologically savvy, at times perplexing. It’s an elegant, if incomplete, implementation of some of the Web’s most proven and essential strategies – sharing, crowd-sourcing, customization – which should serve as an example for those institutions, artistic or not, seeking to build a Web site that is more than a painting hung on an IP address. By allowing users and staff to contribute their visions, takes two steps forward.

Oprah And Sarah Palin Dish On Their ‘Interesting’ Interview

alg_sarah_palin_oprahThe eagle has landed! Translation: the Sarah Palin, Oprah Winfrey interview is a wrap. The much-anticipated sit-down between the talk show queen and the former VP-contender was taped yesterday in Chicago. Later in the evening Palin posted this update to her Facebook page:

Willow, Piper, and I are in Chicago and just wanted to let you know that I had a great conversation with Oprah today. We taped the show for Monday, November 16th, and enjoyed it so much that we went way over on time. The rest will air on Oprah was very hospitable and gracious, and her audience was full of warm, energized and (no doubt) curious viewers.

Sounds promising. Meanwhile, Oprah posted her own update on the “interesting” interview via video (below), noting that “lots of people didn’t want me to have her on, lots of people did. Lots of her supporters didn’t think she should come here, but she did.” According to Oprah, the subjects covered include the campaign, Bristol, Trig, the Palin marriage, and Levi Johnston. Says Oprah: “We talked about everything, there’s nothing we didn’t talk about.” (Maybe she used our earlier post as a primer.)

It will be interesting to see what tone this interview takes. Oprah can be tough when she wants to, but I wonder if she won’t also demonstrate a great deal of empathy to Palin as a powerful woman seemingly under siege from a number of sides. It will also be interesting to see whether Palin makes any fresh headlines over the next few days now that the interview has been completed.

The Problem with Retweets

As most probably know, Twitter is in the process of launching a version of the widely used retweet on its own platform.  The move has caused some controversy, as the way retweets has been implemented by Twitter is much different from the unofficial protocols that Twitter users developed organically on their own.  Twitter founder Evan Williams explains Twitter’s reasoning here.

I’ve been testing out the new retweet functionality for a few days, and I must say I am not a fan at all.  Sean Bonner has written a great blog post dissecting what he dislikes about Twitter retweets.   In his post, he hits on my two biggest issues.

  1. When a retweet appears in your Twitter stream, it shows the avatar of the person who wrote the original tweet instead of the retweeter.  So you have random people’s avatars showing up in your stream.
  2. Users can no longer add their own comments to the retweets.

The result of these two protocol changes is a complete lack of context for the retweets.  Bonner summarizes the lost context problem quite well in this paragraph of his post, which focuses on the avatar issue:

Seeing icons and usernames in my stream of people I don’t follow, even with the addition of a little “retweet” icon does not create a richer, fuller experience for me. It instantly makes me assume Twitter is broken and somehow people I don’t follow are showing up in my stream. It’s jarring and uncomfortable. Ev suggests there is no value in having the icon of the person you follow in a retweet but I completely disagree. Seeing the icon of someone I follow, someone I’m familiar with, instantly puts the retweet in context. Is the person regularly sarcastic which might imply the retweet is a joke, is the retweet a link to an article covering a topic this person usually tweets about which would give me an idea of the slant of the article, is the retweet from someone I follow because I respect and trust their opinion or is it a retweet from someone I’m friends with but don’t always agree with or from someone I follow because they constantly opposing my viewpoints and I want to hear their side of the story as well. Seeing the icon of the person I follow tells me a lot about the tweet and why they likely felt the need to retweet it before I ever read it. Seeing the icon of someone I don’t follow, don’t know, and have no context for confuses me.

Not being able to add your own note to the retweet further destroys the context.

Anyway, not a fan so far.  What do you think?

Update: Techcrunch has a very thorough and thoughtful article on this issue.