October 2007


I posted a question about texting on this week’s Google Group and it really got me thinking: texting has evolved so much over the past few years in our country, but it’s still sub par compared to other places around the world. Why is this? Rheingold‘s book is a little outdated when it comes to texting since it was printed in 2002, but at the time the reason was that you couldn’t text with consumers of other cell phones providers (Verizon could only text with Verizon, Sprint with Sprint, and so on).

But I’m not just talking about the sheer numbers of texts we use every month. Sure, texting has increased in the US and is almost matching Europe, but other countries have taken it to a whole new level. Rheingold opens up Smart Mobs by discussing the power of texting in Japan. Young people gather at places because of widespread text messaging. This trend has hit other parts of the globe, too. Protests in Chile and unrest in France have both been attributed to the influx of texting habits in those countries. Asia leads the international pack in terms of texting, with Europe following behind. The US has been catching up, but not quite to the extent that the rest of the world is dominating.

Rheingold’s explanation doesn’t hold up for today–now we’re able to text all of the phone service provider networks, but we’re not surpassing countries. We don’t have subway meet up initiatives like in Tokyo. There seems to be a lack of urgency with texting in the US.

I think the reason for this is that, in Europe for example, people have been reliant on texting as their main way of communicating. Everybody has cell phones, but these phones come with cards that have to be charged when the $20 or whatever runs out. Calling other cell phones is expensive and the price is docked from the money that you put on the card. Texting is the cheapest option.

And what do we have in the US? Well, now we have unlimited IN texting so that it’s literally free to text with anyone in your network–and these usually come with texting bundles with an additional 50o or 1500 free texts. And who doesn’t know or love this commercial with the old grandma saying “IDK, my BFF Rose?”

But even with all of our free messaging, however, we are still falling behind. True–video and picture messaging has gone up, but why hasn’t texting in the US soared given all of the seemingly high advantages? As the younger generation gets older, it has become their norm–but not as much for those just a few years older. As for Europe and Asia, seemingly everyone is using texting to communicate.

We haven’t become dependent on it because we haven’t needed it. While other countries were using texting to communicate, we had Free Nights and Weekends on our cell phone. Now it’s the norm for almost every member of a family to have their own computer and use it for AIM, G chat, and other messenger services. Blackberries are buzzing at every metro and Starbucks around the district. With this overload of utilities at Americans’ disposal, there hasn’t been a dire need for texting. Sure, it’s a nice thing to have and companies are capitalizing on giving it to their consumers for free, but now it’s more of an added perk than anything else.

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Let’s take a step back from the America-centric bubble of Google and check out what China’s doing…

Battelle explores what’s going on with search in China. Extreme internet censorship has prohibited Google from becoming the phenomenon that it has become in the states and in so many other countries around the world. But just because China hasn’t become “Googleized” doesn’t mean that they haven’t figured out their own formula.

It’s exceptionally important to understand what China is doing, because “China represents a problem for a democratic businesses–its political and moral cultures are repugnant, but its market is far too rich to ignore.” (Battelle, pg. 204) Battelle notes that in the fall of 2002, the Chinese government filtered Google and other search engines–but this caused a huge backlash among Chinese citizens. Google censors its website for China–definitely making an exception for the growing population. China has continued to be a problem for Google…something they can’t quite conquer.

Censoring their website belittles Google’s very own goal to crawl through websites and obtain all the information relevant to a search. By censoring the information returned to the searcher, Google doesn’t have all of the charisma that it has outside of China. In defense of this, Google released the following statement: “While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information… is more inconsistent with our mission.”

So what does China use if they don’t rely on Google? Baidu. And what has this basically meant for Google? “Hey, we don’t really need you. We have our OWN Top 10 search engine.”

And that they do. Baidu continues to be the predominant go-to for Chinese citizens living in an e-world of censorship. Baidu and Google’s home pages look remarkably similar, as does much of their ideology. In a business overview, Baidu claims the following:

“Our mission is to provide the best way for people to find information. To do this we listen carefully to our users’ needs and wants. Have we collected all the Chinese web pages they want to see? Are the pages current and up to date? Are the search results closely related to their queries? Did we return those search results instantly? To improve user experience, we constantly make improvements to our products and services…Our users definitely notice the many little things that we do differently to ensure a simple and reliable search experience every time.”

And yet, Google continues to push and push…they want to bump Baidu out of the way and resume their #1 position in the world. As Battelle argues, “China is a huge market, and as a soon-to-be public company, Google could not afford to sit on the sidelines as competitors charged into the region.” (pg. 207).

I think we should leave China be. They have figured out a popular search engine for them, and who is Google to try to push itself onto one more country? Admit defeat and move on. Yes, China would be a huge conquest for Google, but the omnipresence of Google can be all but too creepy.

The China Question looms on. It would be absurd for Google not to try to tap into the Chinese market, yet they are definitely playing by China’s rules in doing so. China took the confines of their censorship, and did something about it–they didn’t take a backseat to Google by any means. It will be interesting to see how other countries may respond internally to Google’s bubble, or if they will continue to use Google when Search 3.0 rolls around.

Remember You’ve Got Mail? That 1998 romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks? Kathleen and Joe, respectively, meet online and let their online relationship flourish as their personal one essentially crashes and burns.

An entire movie based around AOL e-mail, THE vehicle for online communication in the late 1990s. “You’ve Got Mail”…a term I now think of as synonymous with middle school and high school years (trust me, I’ve still got–and use–the screen name to prove my adolescence), at a time when I thought the internet was IT and there was nothing else that could surpass it.

Kathleen: We only know each other – oh, God, you’re not going to believe this…
Joe: Let me guess. From the Internet.
Kathleen: Yes.
Joe: You’ve got mail.
Kathleen: Yes.
Joe: Three very powerful words.

And weren’t those words powerful?! I really mean it. They came to symbolize at least part of my generation at the time. Maybe that’s a strong statement but I know that when we got AOL in our household it felt like a new world unfolding before our very eyes.

But…then what happened? POOF! be gone, AOL was out and Google was in.

Or was it?

We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that John Battelle mentions in The Search that Google pretty much took over AOL’s search in 2002. Search for something on AOL.com and then search for it on Google–you’ll come up with remarkably similar results, thanks to the takeover of AOL. Battelle asserted that “Not only would AOL begin employing Google’s search technology; it would also be using Google’s paid listings.” (pg. 144). But, as Battelle argues, “the AOL deal was a major risk for Google.” (pg. 145)

If you ask me, AOL definitely paved the way for Google. With AOL, we could all start personalizing our login accounts with information that we wanted to explore. Sports? Entertainment? Any of those things could be personalized for specific AOL accounts.

Google took AOL…and then some. I wrote back in June (check it out–it definitely supplements this blog) in my class blog for Digital PR about the sheer power of Google. The idea of “Just Google It” speaks true now more than ever. Here’s a list of some ways I used Google today–without even really realizing it:

  • Gmail
  • G chat
  • Google texted for weather
  • Google texted a phone number
  • Google texted movie times
  • Google maps
  • Gmap pedometer
  • Google News
  • Google Search
  • Google Picasa for uploading pictures
  • Google Notifier
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Homepage
  • Google Reader

And…that’s no exaggeration. I pretty much live and breathe Google–don’t we all? They have managed to perfect the practice of vertical integration and diversifying their portfolio by truly tapping into every field they could think of–something that AOL never managed to fully accomplish.

Today, AOL announced they will be cutting 2,000 jobs; meanwhile, Google employee numbers continue to grow more than ever before. AOL claims that cutting jobs is their way to focus on online advertising rather than being an internet provider. Looks like that “ding ding ding” of my Google Notifier for Mac has officially replaced that void where “You’ve Got Mail” used to be.

Scoble and Israel’s focus in Naked Conversations is on how companies can integrate blogs into their businesses and make them more successful. But what happens when this goes awry?

The authors discuss L’Oreal’s Vichy blog campaign, which focused on the character of Claire. After Claire debuted in the blogosphere, bloggers were up in arms about the credibility of Claire as a consumer. Was she real? Was she merely the production of L’Oreal advertising? Vichy reacted to the outrage by ultimately shutting the website down, apologizing to their customers, and starting over from scratch.

But it’s interesting to see what the drama said about blogging culture. When it comes to consumer products, people want to know the truth–they went to know what’s real. They want the Avon Lady to give them her honest opinion on new products, and they want Claire to be a real person and NOT just the faux spokesperson of a new marketing campaign. People feel deceived when blogs are anything less than real and tangible reflections of a person or company.

Hmm…interesting, especially considering the popular surge in CEO blogging. Do we really believe that CEO blogs are the handiwork of a reputable CEO? That’s like saying that speech writers don’t exist, and that everything politicians say is straight from their own mouths. As students in a Communications program, we know the value of press secretaries and speech writers. Since blogs are quickly becoming the staple of communication, it would be hard to believe that a CEO doesn’t get any help with their own blogs. Are we holding CEOs of companies to a higher standard than we do to PR and advertising campaigns?

The issue comes down to trust. We want to believe that a CEO or politician is sitting as his desk pouring his or her heart out. Nice thought, isn’t it.

Let’s take a look at lonelygirl15. This started out as an online YouTube diary featuring a teenage girl. After popularity and fame, it was discovered that it was all a hoax. Multiple YouTube videos emerged saying what a fraud lonelygirl15 was. Again, the issue came down to trust. People who tuned in to watch lonelygirl15 believed that she was a real teenager discussing her life; exposing something otherwise caused feelings of deception. One might think that whoever was behind lonelygirl15 would be paralyzed by this scandal…but far from it. Now with a functioning website and new acting careers, the actors and crew behind lonelygirl15 were able to turn a bad blogging fiasco into a phenomenon. Had people known from the beginning that it was all an act, would as many people tune in each time? And as something so informal, should lonelygirl15 have displayed a caveat?

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in the blogosphere. Some things are purely for entertainment (think: Dwight’s Blog from The Office, an obvious way for viewers to stay engaged in the TV show) while others require trust from the readers. With so much information permeating from every computer we look at now, I think we need to absorb everything with a teeny tiny grain of salt. We can’t hold CEO blogs to a higher standard that advertising or public relations campaigns because we have to keep one very important thing in mind: the CEO blog is itself the product of a PR campaign in some shape or form.