NATO Plans New Attack on the Taliban – On YouTube

21 10 2007

It took a while, but the coin finally dropped. Even the ultra-conservative NATO has realized that the battle for hearts and minds is in the social media. The Toronto Star reports that NATO is making a sharp policy shift and declassifying video long considered too risky to make public and preparing to put it on YouTube.

Addressing a Copenhagen gathering of insider delegates, including a sizeable contingent from Canada,  Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO is “frankly in the Stone Age” when it comes to many aspects of public diplomacy.

“When there is an incident in Afghanistan, the Taliban are quick to say there have been high numbers of civilian casualties. The wires pick it up, then the TV stations, then the Web,” Scheffer said. But by the time NATO has investigated, checked the results and passed the information through its approval system, “our response comes days later – if we are lucky. By that time, we have totally lost the media battle.”

The issues will be picked up again in a meeting next month in the Netherlands.

“The Taliban is making videos every day and NATO is not on TV,” Senior NATO spokesperson James Appathurai told the Star. “The Taliban has websites. We don’t have websites, certainly not an effective Afghan website.

Sources say NATO will put new emphasis on Web videos, including the declassification of images previously thought too sensitive to publicize, and place a premium on fleet-footed communication, possibly using rapid-reaction teams to mobilize when Taliban-conceived falsehoods hit the press.

“This is a turning point because now there is consensus that NATO needs to do much, much better at communication, first and foremost with video,” said Appathurai.

“We need to be on YouTube.”


Web Discovery: The Next Wave in Web Search

12 10 2007

Google remains the undisputed heavyweight champion of Internet search technology but the tech giant may require some tweeking to stay relevant in the long run. People are beginning to shift away from key word searches in favor of “discovery search” – engines that offer a bit more scope than a list of sites with the key word in them. 

The New York Times discussed the phenomenon in a recent feature on StumbleUpon, a social media site that allows people to share sites they find interesting.

 Say you are a soccer fan, but you are neither in the market for new cleats nor in search of the buzz on Greg Ryan, the coach of the United States women’s team. Instead, you just want to see interesting soccer sites. Googling “interesting soccer” or “great soccer stuff” is not likely to be satisfying.

A Web service called StumbleUpon has spent the last six years trying to satisfy such a need, perfecting a formula to help you discover content you are likely to find interesting. You tell the service about your professional interests or your hobbies, and it serves up sites to match them. As you “stumble” from site to site, you will feel as if you are channel-surfing the Internet, or rather, a corner of the Internet that is most relevant to you.

The article describes discovery search as “niche activity” but pointed out that StumbleUpon has grown from 600,000 registered users to 3.5 million in the past two years, suggesting that the concept is beginning to take off.

Facebook and ‘Open Source Politics’

5 10 2007

Facebook continues to grow as a mini-web inside the World Wide Web, except that it is clean, easy to use, and free of the excesses associated with Internet anonymity. It is a great platform for marketing events and services on a local level and connecting with like-minded people across the world.

And with about 30 million members and growing, it is perfectly positioned for political activism. According to Wired magazine, activists looking to organize dozens of simultaneous rallies for the people of Myanmar turned to Facebook to spread the news.

Amateur activists and big-league political nonprofit groups find Facebook an easy way to connect citizens around the globe and help them push their collective concerns to the top of politicians’ agendas, a development that marks the beginnings of what might be called “open-source politics.”

“We’re working very closely with the people from Facebook,” says Mark Farmaner, Burma Campaign UK’s acting director. “They’re able to do things that we can’t because we’re a small organization with a small capacity — they’ve been able to mobilize people, and there’s been a division of labor.”

Open source politics, or politics 2.0, helped energize Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and spawned the “netroots” in the blogosphere and on social networking sites. Despite these successes, however, the concept has remained on the fringes of the political word, embraced primarily as an “alternative” approach to activisism partially because of a generation gap in relating to technology and partially because it has appealed mainly to progressive activists. 

But with Facebook’s rocket trajectory sweeping through virtually every segment of the population, the very concept of “mainstream” is evolving before our very eyes.  And organizing political rallies is just the beginning of Facebook activism. The New York Times reported recently on a Facebook-based direct action that saved a popular candy bar from being discontinued.

Users of Facebook, the social networking service, make up for any shortcomings in spelling, grammar and punctuation with their sheer numbers. After nearly 14,000 people joined “bring back Wispa” groups on Facebook, the food conglomerate Cadbury Schweppes announced on Aug. 17 that it would reintroduce the candy bar in October.

Keeping a candy bar in production may not sound like much but it illustrates that nearly anything can be achieved by organizing on Facebook, from the trivial to the crucially important. Indeed, a few weeks later the Times had another story of Facebook activism, this time involving an effort to ban a group accused of hate speech against Muslims. Within days, some 75,000 people joined the effort to block the group.

And that’s what I call open source politics.

Taking the Elevator Pitch to the…Elevator

3 10 2007

Everyone attempting to secure funding for an idea knows about the “elevator pitch” – what you would say to a potential funder if you found yourself alone in an elevator with him.

Well, Wake Forest University’s Business School has taken the concept to the next level. For the second year in a row, the university is sponsoring The Elevator competition, which gives MBA students a chance to pitch their ideas to a venture capitalist inside an elevator while traveling 27 floors.

Filmmaker Jeff Giordano documented last year’s competition in a short film called “27 Stories.” Watch a two-minute preview of the film: