I want to take a second to divert ourselves from our regularly scheduled programming and share a TED talk from Dan Pallotta about the way we as a society tend to think about charity.
I wanted to share the video because I couldn’t agree more. When talking about charities and NGOs online I’ve often run into the argument that anything short of bare-bones administrative costs and program spending is a waste of money; whether it be an organization thats primary goal is to raise awareness or one set up to feed the homeless. This is a problem and backwards thinking in the world we live in today.
Moreover this has a serious effect on the way that charities fucntion. The discussion of a projects (hypothetical) perception rather than its actual impact is far too common in my experience. Even if you can sell the idea internally you still have to overcome the fear of public backlash and the associated loss of funding. I think there is a real fear in some organizations that if you get the spotlight shone on you then there will be a backlash; all of the sudden everyone who can Google “charity navigator” is a forensic accountant and you’re being written up on the Huffington Post.
Our effectiveness is being hamstrung either by the fear that this attitude engenders or by draining efforts as we have to argue to justify not just the work we are doing (which is fair enough) our existence regardless of our achievements.
State is a new social network that is trying to place a greater focus what the arguments are and less on who is making that argument. It’s a good idea. It’s hard for people to gain traction on Twitter based solely on their arguments. Often times you need to either have some sort of notoriety or know how to play the system to get attention. State is trying to get around this problem by focusing on the structure of content.
Organization is actually one of State’s key differentiators. Rather than start with an open text field, when you “State” an opinion, you use type-ahead boxes to pick a topic or paste in a link and choose several words that describe it. For example you could pick the portable stereo Big Jambox and call it “Amazing” and “Loud”, Bitcoin and describe it as “fad” or “misunderstood”, actor Christian Bale as “talented” or “deteriorating”, or TechCrunch’s article “Google Now Launches On iOS” and call it “overdue” or “inferior”.
This typehead system makes it extremely quick to share an opinion. Alexander tells me “The objective is to make it accessible in practice to everyone ,which means making it so easy that you can use it for both serious and frivolous opinions.” If you want to leave more complex thoughts, you can always tack on a longer text description.
The post then gets displayed to everyone who has an interest in the topic. Presumably there is a mechanism to keep popular posts near the top of the pile. You can head over to TechCrunch to read all the details.
It’s still in closed beta and I haven’t had a chance to use it yet so this may be a tad premature but this model brings up a few concerns for me immediately:
- this model lends itself towards reductionism (not that the rest of the internet doesn’t anyways). While you can elaborate in your posts the focus will be on the typehead system and I’m not sure how effectively you can convey nuance when you’re forced into categorizing your thoughts and those broad categories are prominently displayed overhead. If the typehead says awesome and that’s the first thing I see it will colour how interpret the content of your post.
- if you have to select a typehead from the drop down rather than typing something yourself then the question arises of what is available in the typehead to start off with.
- as I mentioned above, there is presumably some sort of algorithm that determines what the best content is and keeps it at the forefront (well, either that or it will be an unreadable stream of drivel). algorithms can and almost always are gamed. On a site intended to present the best arguments this seems to me to be more problematic than with other sites.
That’s what pops into my head right now and I’d love to be proved wrong. Hopefully once I have a chance to give it a shot I can update with some evidence to counter or bolster my wild claims.
What are your thoughts?
The Verge put out a great piece today on how Iran is trying to censor the internet within its borders. In particular it talks about how Iran, who cannot take the same approach to censorship as say China, uses inconvenience rather than straight up blocking as a way to nudge users to state sponsored alternatives.
For censors, it’s not a question of unplugging from the global web, but making foreign sites so inconvenient that Iranians will choose to ignore them.
It’s well worth the read.
The day of the Boston bombings was the day that breaking news died. The Boston bombings and aftermath had me absolutely enthralled. Like most people I was glued to the computer watching updates come in and searching for updates. Twelve years ago I would have been in front of the TV watching CNN; like I did during 9/11. Four years ago during the Green Revolution in Iran I was glued to Twitter watching information come in from the ground. Four days ago however I was hitting F5 incessantly and watching Reddit update. Before we go any further let me get two things out of the way:
Disclaimer #1 – This is all a bit stream of conscious right now. I’m not really sure where I’m going with it or if it will even make sense. Proceed with caution.
Disclaimer #2 – When I say Reddit does something I mean a subset of Reddit users and not the entire site. I know how jumpy they can be about people daring to blame anything on the site as a whole.
Social media has been around for years though. What’s the difference between what was happening on Twitter and what happened on Reddit? Well, mainly, Reddit curated the content for me. With Twitter you are given an unfiltered stream of information from the ground. Reddit, or more specifically a small group of users on Reddit, sorted through Tweets, police scanners, newspaper articles, and more and filtered out the chaff and put it all in one (okay 7) threads that could be read. If you’re not familiar with what the threads looked like you can take a look at this example.
With newspapers your a reader. You wait for them to collect, filter, and present the news as they see fit. When you need analysis it’s great. When you want speed and immediacy it falters. With Twitter you are the reporter. You go to the scene and talk to the witnesses and piece the story together yourself. Reddit places you one step above the street. You’re no longer the beat reporter but instead your the editor that they report too.
Now, I’m not arguing this is a good thing; in fact as a consumer of news I’m leaning ever so slightly in the opposite direction at the moment. In the pro column you get a lot of information and you get it fast. In an emergency we as humans have an ingrained need to know what’s going on. We also have a perverse attraction to voyeurism. These Reddit threads serve to sate both of those. Not only are we fed an inordinate amount of information but we get to be privy to police scanners, people pleading for information about missing relatives, and we get to know what’s “going on” before people who rely on traditional news sources.
The problem, or at least one of them, is that the information we are fed in unfiltered and unverified. Take for example the police scanners. The information released on those is not definite. It’s working information and yet we take it in with the same weight as reporters who rely on two sources (not that they did particularly better in this case).
As an adjunct to this there is a tendency in certain online communities to tend towards vigilantism (see: Reddit, 4Chan, and Anonymous). When you combine this with sketchy information and you get cases where innocent people get targeted in witch hunts. In fact his instance saw the FBI releasing the pictures of the suspects earlier than they would have liked in an attempt to limit the damage the amateur detectives were doing. I’m a giant fan of the idea of crowdsourcing but crowdsourcing is generally a brute force tool and not one that lends itself to the nuance necessary for a serious investigation
Despite all that, or maybe because of it, I think that this is the future. It plays into our base instincts too well and realistically there has been and will not be any punishment for this type of activity. There’s no incentive to dissuade a repetition of the negative actions taken over the last few days.
In this case I think we were lucky. The people posting information and contributing to the conversation were doing it out a genuine interest and in good faith. There’s really nothing stopping someone from acting in bad faith the next time and supplying bad or spun information. I think we all know how important the first few hours are to establishing a frame.
Now the Reddit admins have responded to a lot of these criticisms.
Today something big happened in London, as I was sitting at my desk.
In occasion of tomorrow’s George Osborne’s Budget 2013, 500 fake “Osbornes” took the street and asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to keep a 43-year-old promise to spend 0.7 per cent of the UK’s national income on aid and to crack down on the tax-dodging by big companies in developing countries.
The action was part of “Enough Food For Everyone #IF” – a huge campaign involving over 100 charities and organisations calling on world leaders to tackle the food system.
Here’s how CAFOD’s campaigns writer Sarah Hagger-Holt remembers the event:
Inside my plastic Osborne mask I was cut off from the outside world. I could barely see the person in front, sounds were muffled and – as no one could recognise the person standing next to them – few of us talked to each other. I certainly couldn’t see the bigger picture. And perhaps that’s what Sister Pat means when she talks about politicians not seeing the reality of poverty. Because power can bring with it a certain distance.
500 activists, 500 masks, one big “IF” written on the grass of Parliament Square – and one hashtag: #SpotTheGeorge, tweeted by hundreds of activists, organisations and random users.
An amazing effort, an incredible coordination on the ground, as well as on the web. Most importantly, the proof that social media should not hold off and wait for media coverage, but rather bring the news to the people out there and mobilise them, in real time. And, only then, make the news.