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I’m in my final 2 semesters at Georgetown grad, and am currently enrolled in a Global Communications class. The focus is on social media, and we study a new country every week. It’s been quite a journey, and we finish with a blast in London for a week starting August 14.

So, despite what you may have been thinking, I HAVE still been writing! Just not on my personal blog. Visit the class blog to read all mine (and my classmates’) blogs. More specifically:

This is the group blog for the Georgetown University Global Communications class taking place over the Summer semester in 2010.  The format of the class is to focus on a different region of the world every week and the students research and share insights from their research into interesting and unique ways that social media is being used in each country.

Thanks for visiting our blog and please leave a comment if something sparks a thought from one of our posts!

Thanks!

Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, is a book that my professor recommended to me this semester. Although I do admit that I haven’t gotten around to reading the book yet, the idea of it really grabbed my attention.

This TED video, commentated by the author himself, really sums it up:

Schwartz categorizes two types of people: “‘Maximizers,’ people who, given a choice, will exhaustively search all the options, seeking all possible information, in order to make the best possible choice”; and ‘Satisficers.’ those who settle for a choice that is ‘good enough’ for them. These people are generally happier with their choice, and spend less time choosing, leaving them free to enjoy other things.”

My parents brought me to the U.S. at a very young age to give me and my younger brother better opportunities. I am pretty certain that they thought that all the choices that would be available to us would ultimately benefit us and make us happy in our lives. Ever since middle school, my parents would tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to. While I was skeptical even at a young age, this actually helped in that I became interested in many things; I was on the swim team, played piano, tried some other sports, picked up a few casual hobbies,  volunteered at various jobs, etc. When I finally got into college, my interests were so broad that I officially changed my major three times! I went from Pre-Pharmacy, to Psychology, to Economics, and finally to English. Funny enough, I chose English because I felt that my choices would be broader after graduation.

As Schwartz puts it, this abundance of choice has two negative effects:

  • Produces paralysis rather than liberation: with so many options, people find it difficult to choose at all
  • Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from

When I was accepted to Georgetown’s PR/Corp Comm master’s program, there were moments that I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if it was exactly path I wanted to take. But I’m glad I made the choice and now see myself as more of a “satisficer” than a “maximizer.”

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"When people have no choice, life is miserable. As you start adding options, you increase wellbeing. However, you reach a point where the curve flattens out and there are diminishing marginal effects. At a point in the curve, satisfaction drops and you are worse off than when you were neutral." -Luke Wroblewski

The Key to Winning the 2012 Election Online

The mixture of politics and technology proved to be very successful for the 2008 race to the white house. This video, posted last summer in the heat of the campaign, explains how big this had really become:

The first time technology really worked in favor of a presidential candidate was for John F. Kennedy during the 1960 elections, with television as the up and coming medium. And to think… that was just under 50 years ago! We’ve come a long way, and we all know that technology continues to become more efficient at exponential rates. It is hard to imagine that Facebook was a small social application limited to college students during the 2004 elections.

The key to winning the 2012 elections can be summed up by learning from Obama’s campaign strategy in 2008. In Edelman’s “Social Pulpit” report, these are described as follows:

  1. Laddering support through tiers of engagement (personal, social, anelections20-20flag20and20balloonsd advocate)
  2. Empowering super users
  3. Providing source material for user-generated content
  4. Going where the people are
  5. Using tools people are familiar with
  6. Ensuring that people can find your content
  7. Mobilizing supporters through mobile devices
  8. Harnessing analytics to constantly improve engagement activities
  9. Building the online operation to scale
  10. Choosing the right team

Obama’s campaign is pure genius for getting this right the first time (my professor described this very well in his Infonomics column). These lessons will be the basis of the 2012 elections and the trick to winning – adapt to new technologies and apply them in intelligent ways. The major difference in 2012 will be with #5 (with the emergence of new and improved tools) and #10 (choosing the right team members who will collaboratively make the right decisions). Striking the perfect balance between technology and face-to-face communications will also be a key factor to winning the future race to the white house.

To give you an idea of where we’re headed, think about this: Moore’s Law states that computers will become twice as fast and half as cheap every 2 years. This means that by the next election, technology will allow us to accomplish things that I can’t begin to fathom or describe. I am anxious to see how this all unfolds!

Friendship or Acquaintanceship?

rron598l1I stumbled across a classmate’s blog post about Facebook and the boundaries of friendship, which she responded in relation to this article by Frederic Lardinois.

Earlier in the semester, we had a discussion on what the definition of a “friend” is and where we draw the line. It didn’t really impact me at the time, because I thought I was just expanding my network of old college friends, colleagues, and family. I never add anybody I don’t know. Plus, I may need to keep some of these “friends” just in case I need to contact them in the future about something that they are an involved with (e.g., concert promotions, activity partners, etc.). However, after a recent conversation with an immediate family member, this topic came up. She told me that having nearly 600 friends and 81 groups “does not fit the boundaries of logical thinking, no matter how you justify it.” Another family member backed her up by saying:

‘Friend’ has a different meaning in Iranian culture compared to the Facebook terminology (or the English language). The word (doost=friend) is basically used to refer to someone that you dearly care for. In the context that the word gets used here, it refers to (aashena=someone you know).

At first, I was naturally offended by their comments. Did they not know that I categorize each friend and that I don’t hold each under the same light? I’ve even gone out of my way to edit my privacy settings so that certain people can see only certain parts of my profile. Strangers can’t see my profile at all. On Wikipedia’s “Friendship” page, “Internet Friendship” is even defined as a category of friendship.

So… what was the problem?

I let their comments sink in for a few days and read some blogs about the topic. It all became clearer to me. I remember the first true social networking site I ever joined was Friendster back in 2002/2003. My intention was purely to reconnect with old friends from high school, etc. Then MySpace came along and, while I was very careful about the type of content I was posting, I did not have a filter on who I accepted as a “friend.” I think this is where my perception of the word had evolved into something different than what I’ve always known. Acquaintanceship and Friendship had become one and the same.

Of course, after some creepy stalker-ish incidents on MySpace, I deleted everyone I didn’t know, and went back to basics. I stick with the same rule now as I always have; don’t add if I don’t know. But after conversations with my family and reading my classmate’s blog post, I think I am going through another realization. Maybe it’s time I re-evaluate who I really care about and don’t care about on Facebook; maybe I need to stop being such a pack rat! 🙂

As my classmate so eloquently stated: “…I find it annoying to receive news feed information on someone I casually know, or would not skip a beat in life if I didn’t hear from them over an extended period of time.”

Iraq 2.0

With the rise of Web 2.0, it is easier than ever to share and explore personal accounts of the Iraq war.

This week, I browsed through some military blogs (aka “miliblogs”) and came across a wide array of content. My favorite three were Acute Politics, The Gun Line, and When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroine.” When Last We…,” written by a livejournal user named “soldiergrrrl,” was of particular interest to me because it was one of the few blogs that I came across that was written by a woman. Although all the blogs were similar in topic (e.g., life in the front line of war), it was refreshing to read from a woman’s perspective.

YouTube is also a great resource for those looking to see action in the front lines. While browsing through enemy combatant footage, I was reminded of when the Iraq War first started about six years ago. People were fixated on their television sets to watch live footage of the fighting, taken by professional reporters. Now, the soldiers…the civilians…the enemies – they are now the “reporters” conveying the information.

However, I can’t help but think how much of what’s posted online is censored (videos, specifically – but I suppose this would also apply to miliblogging). While there is some graphic footage out there, are the more extreme videos blocked by government or video sites? Photos of dead soldiers and videos of memorial services are off limits.

The Constitutional Rights Foundation has a site that lists policies of press freedom versus military censorship:

  • Policy #1: Press Pools. The Pentagon accredited all American journalists and required them to observe the battlefield press rules (e.g., No reporters could visit any U.S. military unit or travel outside of Dhahran or Riyadh except in a press pool.)
  • Policy #2: Proposed Rules by News Media (e.g., The Pentagon should accredit independent journalists, who must observe ‘a clear set of military security guidelines that protect U.S. forces and their operations.’ Violators of these guidelines should be expelled from the combat zone.)”

In closing, the following are videos of resistance towards the military censorship put forth by the Bush Administration:

Exploring Global Bloggers – Saudi Arabia

I recently visited Global Voices Online, a very interesting collaborative site that organizes and highlights blogs from around the world. Since I already explored Iranian bloggers in my very first blog post, I decided to hop across the Persian Gulf and explore Saudi Arabia’s blogging world. I was curious as to how similar the two countries were in terms of freedoms and restrictions.

One of the major recurring themes that I came across was the repression against women. Saudi Arabia Women Rights is a blog that raises awareness of the lack of rights.  I was actually pleased to see that some men were outraged by the government’s rulings. One of my favorite blogs was saudijeans.org, written by 24-year old Ahmed Al-Omran who resides and studies in Riyadh. He focuses on the country’s social and political issues, and also stands against repression towards women.

In a country where so many restrictions are set, blogging is a gateway to expression for many in the middle east. It is, in a way, a small revolution. As expressed in UK Financial Times:

The movement appears to have caught more conservative members of the establishment off guard, by introducing new tactics to the political scene as well as a new spirit of activism among young Kuwaitis.

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Fouad Al-Farhan

However, bloggers in the region need to be cautions of what they post. A perfect example of someone who may have gone too far was Fouad al-Farhan, who in December 2007 was the first Saudi Arabian blogger to be arrested because of his criticism of corruption and call for political reform. Farhan also ran into trouble with the authorities in 2006 when he tried to start a group to protect bloggers’ rights. The executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information even stated:

“When the Saudi authorities arrest a young man writing maturely and is against terrorism and calls for reformation, it is a serious indicator for how far are the fanatic and those opposing freedom of expression and reformation are taking over in Saudi Arabia.”

A contributor of Global Voices Online outlined al-Farhan’s situation perfectly.

This may be a revolution, indeed.

Bloggers Affecting the Travel Industry

In my class del.icio.us feed, I came across a story entitled Pushy bloggers to travel industry: Be nice. I found this article (written by Christopher Elliott) to be particularly interesting because it really shows how far the travel industry has come in terms of customer service, thanks to Web 2.0.

Let’s rewind back 10-15 years. Suppose you had a terrible experience on a flight with one of the airline staff members. Immediate action would usually consist of requesting to speak with a manager. Some may have gone a step further by writing a letter (or an email, if they had access) to the manager. You may have received some sort of apology, or, if you were lucky, a refund or coupon. However, this was a slow process. Web 2.0 has completely turned things around.

In his article, Elliott gives examples of how this plays out in today’s world. One is about a bad experience that someone had at a Las Vegas hotel; the manager extended an apology and offered a free 2-night stay. Another lady posted a blog about faulty child seats from Advantage Rent-a-Car that caught the attention of ABC news; this led to California changing their child safety-seat laws.

Twitter is making it even faster and easier to express poor service, and allows members to interact with one another on issues. As Rachel King puts it:

Companies have figured out Twitter provides the opportunity to listen to what customers are saying about their brands, and to respond. Still, it’s not easy for a corporation to strike the right tone on Twitter. Some brands on Twitter seem too formal and stilted while others seem interested in using it only as a one-way PR channel. And then there’s the delicate issue of corporations following unsuspecting customers and responding to their complaints about brands. Even though the intentions are good, it might be a bit startling for customers to find out the folks from the brand are eavesdropping on their tweets.

King shines light on both the pros and cons of tweeting about customer service, but I believe that more good  comes from this “conversation” between brands and consumers.

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