Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I have come across two articles in the past few days on CNN and the NY Times that talk about the problems that both facebook and twitter are having with growing as quickly as they both have.

The NY Times article by Brad Stone discusses facebook's growth in terms of numbers, and in terms of growing pains. It covers the recent controversies with users over advertising and terms of service, and quite aptly speaks about how users are in a unique conundrum: do they stick with the technology that they have learned to love even though they don't like it as much, or do they leqave it, causing a void in their lives that never existed before? It seems that the former is winning out.

It is also interesting when they quote a facebook executive saying facebook is, "not a democracy." I thought that was the underlying philosophy behind all of this new, user-owned media. But apparenty it is "to build an Internet medium for communication," and about the creators and keepers of the site, "we think we have enough perspective to do that and be caretakers of that vision." It is also interesting when Stone covers how facebook is breaking down traditional, sometimes arbitrary boundries, like those between parent and child, and how this may cause said kids to leave when their parents find pictures of them drinking.

The CNN article discusses a more technical aspect of Twitters explosive growth, showing how it is often overloaded with traffic and shuts down. This is a bit more straight forward with the exception of the "early adopters" angle: basically that the early adopters of Twitter are getting annoyed with new users.

It is not lost on me that both articles are published by large, traditional media outlets. Is this an underhanded attempt to chip away at facebook and twitters' collective popularity? Probably not.

It is also interesting to me how both articles cover how these technologies are changing behavior, as that is the topic of the blog. What it does not do, however, is form a value judgement on whether it is for the better or for the worse. I guess that is my job, so here it is (and it is not a new point to be made):

I think both have tremendous potential to help us along in our quest to work better and connect more deeply with our friends and family...as one interviewee in the Twitter piece says, "we are humans, that is what we do." But I am not sure it is great if this is replacing good old face-to-face time (see my post from yesterday). What I found fascinating is at the close of the NY Times article, when one user talks about the new kind of pressure she got from friends when she quit facebook in frustration. Ms. Doherty states, "Everyone has a love-hate relationship with it. They wanted me to be wasting my time on it just like they were wasting their time on it."

Maybe that answers my question.

Monday, March 30, 2009


In this posting on the NY Time's "Bits," Jenna Wortham explains how facebook helped her make the decision not to attend her college reunion. Why would she? She has connected with all of the people that she wanted to know about, and she doesn't need to pay to go and meet them. Fair enough.

The article goes on to detail how some think facebook could strengthen these bonds and improve attendence because it can make us feel closer to our fellow alumni. I buy Jenna's explanation a bit more. This touches on a significant change that has and still is occurring - the disappearing face-to-face.

My parents used to tell me that video games were no replacement for playing outside, and I think this is the social equivalent of that notion. Facebook may be good to see baby pics and have occaisional chats with these folks, but it is no replacement for seeing how large and in charge the prom queen became, or how that cool athlete wore a purple velvet sport coat to the event (God Kelsey Engel - it made me so happy to see you look so awful) or talking with someone you thought was so smart, only to realize they are...um...not.

No, it is indeed a sad disengagement if facebook puts an end to college and high school reunions. One should really attend these, if only for the triumphant entrance to a party where, in one evening of cocktails, one manages to exorcise the demons of childhood. Of course I don't know Jenna - maybe she has "other" reasons for not going.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I just wanted to follow up my post from last night on the importance of professional journalism's survival in the face of the new media onslaught.

CNN online ran quite a fitting follow up piece today about the very same topic. It is a scary proposition, as some of the comments following the article express, if user-generated content becomes so dominant that the news becomes something difficult to trust and is by and large unsubstantiated opinion.

The article claims that large national newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post will most likely survive, and may indeed thrive under this new order. But I still think there is a danger.

It is pretty ironic that web 2.0 and the new media are promoted as handing power back into the hands of people, but at the same time manage to destroy the Fourth Estate which is arguably one of the most important checks on our democracy.

I have to think there is some sort of happy medium, but what that might be is unclear right now. It is a red flag when it becomes increasingly more difficult to find any source of news that is worth trusting, even marginally, without extensive checking. Not that one should trust everything they read, but if at any time the impetus to do the fact checking falls primarily on the shoulders of readers, the corpse of our democracy will be laid in a coffin lined with newspaper.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I found a recent article on Real Clear Politics by Cathy Young (of Reason Magazine) on professional journalism vis-a-vis new media good fodder for (DIS)ENGAGED.

Ms. Young makes a wise statement that professional journalists and the profession are both still as important than ever, and that the new media, while a powerful tool of democracy and spreading information, is not a wise substitute. She rightly claims that both do best when acting as a check on, and complement to the other. There is some additional commentary on how Barack Obama was handled with velvet gloves and also that the media is liberal-leaning. She may be right, but that is not what I am interested in here.

The rest of the article (posted on a blog, mind you) goes on to discuss how traditional media might survive in the new media landscape, and business models that might allow these companies to make profits and survive in the face of blogs and the like. I do think this is important.

Ms. Young closes with a judgment that if Americans still respect quality journalism they will pay to keep it alive so long as the media earns that respect. I agree with this in broad terms, but I am not sure that it is entirely true.

I know more people in my hometown in Illinois that think the NY Times is liberal propaganda than those who take it as honest reporting. I see plenty of people here in the big apple who use The NY Post for one-stop news/info shopping. And I have spoken with plenty of folks who seem to put more faith in user-generated commentary disguised as news than they do in that from professional sources.

I was recently in Seattle when the Seattle P.I. folded, and it seems like each day another one bites the dust. It is sad, and scary. While our new media give us new and exciting democratic opportunities, I agree with Ms. Young. We do need to find a way to at least preserve professional journalism, if not the papers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Given the public figures that too have claimed that they wanted the new President to fail, it was not so much that it surprised me when I read about this, which appears on the blog "Red State," in The Economist. It was that it struck me as a particularly difficult conundrum to confront here on (DIS)ENGAGED. I also felt really dirty just now posting a link to that site and the petition in question.

In one respect, it is definitely engaged, just not for the side that I am on. On the other hand, does engaging people in an effort to cause catastrophic failure count as "moving us forward?" No, I think not. So here in lies the issue. What qualifies as something that aids progress?

I guess to the folks that might sign on to this petition, aiding in the failure of the new administration is moving us forward by taking us back. Huh? To others like myself it just seems counter-productive and a terrible waste of time, effort and broadband. If I had to make a tally in either column, engaged or otherwise, I guess I would call it a wash. In all honesty, I should give them credit since they are promoting something they believe in, but it is my blog and much like Cartman, I do what I want.

So Red State...be happy with the goose egg.


I recently had the opportunity of attending a seminar at Fenton Communications, a consulting firm which guides social change movements and enables the organizations that further them to gain traction and move audiences to action. Aside from the incredibly important work done at Fenton, it was inspiring to learn about what it is like to work at the firm. Not only am I grateful that such a place exists to help move the important causes of our time forward, but as a communications and corporate relations professional at NYC's biggest non-profit, I would be remiss not to mention that it sounds like a dream job.

In addition to learning about the exciting work done by the Fenton professionals, Sharene Azimi, Vice President with Fenton, offered to help me get some answers for (DIS)ENGAGED. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask some important questions relating to the topic of this blog, the answers to which came from John Gordon, Vice President of Online Services with the firm. What follows below is this question and answer session:

Could you please briefly explain the scope of Fenton’s work and your role?

Fenton provides a range of public relations, advertising, and new media services to clients that protect the environment, transform markets, improve public health, and advance human rights and social justice.

I am the Vice President of Online Services and I work with clients to develop strategies to engage their network through Web tools and social media.

Can you explain how Fenton is using Web 2.0 (social networks, blogs, or user-generated content in general) to further its work?

We believe successful campaigns require you to join a conversation before you can move people to action. These conversations are happening in traditional media, at water-coolers, and around the kitchen table. But, more and more, they are happening through social tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. As much as appropriate we try to integrate social media into the communications mix. The challenge is to leverage the strengths of each media to complement and support the overall goals of the client.

Now the big, general question: do you see the emergence of these technologies as engaging citizens in our political and social process to change our society for the better? If so, how?

Yes. Any tool that enables citizens to organize, inform and communicate at a higher level can only better our society.

Do you see anything as a threat to technology’s ability to help move us all forward?

Last mile restrictions and media consolidation are probably the biggest threats to the Internet’s potential. Also, investment in communications infrastructure and equitable access to technology are challenges we must meet if we want to move forward as a society.

Do you believe in the professed power of social networking sites, or could they be smoke and mirrors?

The power of social networking is real. Millions of people are using these tools to connect with others and have real conversations. That’s a powerful thing.

Do you believe blogs, sites like YouTube and social networks could actually end up being a hindrance to progress, or another distraction in a world where people can seem incredibly disengaged?

Traditional media inspired response, but the experience was mostly passive. The promise of social media is that we can engage and deliver action within the same expression. With every medium there is the opportunity to use it for less than productive means, but the overall rewards certainly will outweigh any threats.

Are there any examples that immediately come to mind that you see as a success in leveraging these new online tools to change things for the better, or at least expand engagement in the larger conversation?

The one obvious example was the Obama campaign. They were able to integrate new media in way that brought about historic change.

What specific technologies do you think hold the most promise for moving the conversation forward?

I don’t think it’s about the specific technologies so much as it is about behavior. The technology certainly enables communication, but people’s desire to connect and communicate in new and creative ways is driving the innovation.

Do you see any “dangerous” new technologies, or, ones that look like they may hold us back?

Social monitoring tools are very useful, but they are also a little frightening. I don’t think most people understand that every Tweet and post they generate is searchable and that people are actively mining and monitoring for information. The flip side of this is that younger generations do understand this and they seem okay with it. This active embrace of total information sharing could have future implications about the perception of privacy rights.

Thank you so much to the team at Fenton Communications, both for helping me, and for your work!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


While I have found myself blogging a lot about politics and social networks recently, I wanted to talk about something else that I read which I thought was pretty cool. The fine blogger over at verdantic would probably find this interesting as well.

So while it is not hard to see how communications technology is changing politics and the way we interact with each other, it is not necessarily clear how this technology can help to save the planet. At least not until I read this piece on earth2tech.com.

Here they list their 7 favorite ways that web 2.0 can help save the planet. With everything from online training to reduce fuel-wasting habits of truck drivers, to using social networks for ride sharing, the fine people over at earth2tech help to make us realize that we have more tools to clean up our environment at our disposal than we might otherwise believe.

Engaged? You betcha!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009


At the risk of seeming too mainstream-media effected, I thought that this piece by Professor of History and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, Julian E. Zelizer, raised the very question that (DIS)ENGAGED is meant to explore: are facebook and its net roots cohorts really a new force to be reckoned with in our political discourse?

The good professor doesn't take any sides but does correctly state that, although Barack Obama may have been elected to the White House with a lot of help from the "roots" and facebook, it is not yet clear whether these two new players can really affect legislation or policy. As Zelizer aptly points out, the tools that raised the President so much money during his campaign and ultimately put him into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was not used as a means to an end during the fight over the recent stimulus bill. As the article ponders, it will be interesting to see if it can be effectively deployed to help with the upcoming budget war, or beyond that into more specific policy areas.

There is a great video from the BBC cited in the article and it is a pretty stinging (if not entertaining), yet painfully accurate, commentary on how many people actually spend their time on facebook:

Though it is unclear how likely it is to happen, Zelizer contends that the new power of citizen-generated policy could supplant the muscular "political machines" of our not-so-distant past. If this Presidency can effectively use web 2.0 to navigate the legislative and political hurdles that loom large on the horizon, we could indeed be witnessing the beginnings of a new political order. It will just take someone savvy enough to pull the networked strings of our culture to get the job done in this potentially newly-engaged world.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


So I just ran across this little tidbit of a story today about how some clown at a defense contractor apparently set up a file sharing program on a computer where the blueprints and technical specs for Marine One were stored. Brilliant.

So putting the argument about music swapping aside for a moment; come on, you would think that if someone were qualified and savvy enough to work with the specs of a military helicopter, they would understand the implications of having a FILE SHARING program installed on the same computer where those files are stored. Right? Well I guess not.

The files were discovered at an IP address in Iran, which is fabulous, and that is not all. It is also said to be common practice for foreign agencies to monitor these programs because apparently a lot of our no-bid buddies at our military's finest suppliers still don't get that you can't download from a share site to the same computer on which you store national security secrets. Maybe Marine One's plans were not that secret, and maybe it is impossible to do this at the places where our most sensitive information is stored, but this is still disturbing.

Now of course I have to bring it back home to this blog. While I do have some problems with sharing sites, mostly because I think that creative production belongs to those who produce/own it, and it is at their discretion that distribution should be left, this goes above and beyond. It is clear that what would appear to be one of the more benign technologies out their, primarily used for swapping music, can actually pose a significant risk to us all. So in summation, I actually would put a mark in "engaged" column. But I am not happy about it.