Web 2.0


For my Digital PR class this summer, I wrote about the idea of “virtual insanity” and the strange ever changing online world. I’ve also blogged about Second Life and how this trend (well, trend would mean it’s somewhat temporary, but that’s another topic for debate…) has been on the rise lately.

And now, we’re reading Julian Dibbell’s Play Money which details Dibbell’s quest–and success–in becoming a millionaire by selling “virtual loot.” And I’ve got to say. . .this seems like BS to me.

Social networks, blogs, etc–that’s all one league of online behavior and habits that I enjoy and participate in. But the virtual communities and second identities seems beyond what my imagination can stretch to. Second Life and these virtual communities seem like outlets for people to escape their real lives and fantasize about an alternative identity for themselves. This all seems fine and dandy, but what about when it gets out of hand? There have been examples of rape and crime in Second Life–obviously people have taken their imaginations too far.

Dibbell has been able to make a living off of his virtual loot in second life. I agree with what John said on our Google Groups dialogue: “That being said, I think that virtual goods are a stupid idea. There is no reason anyone should pay cash for a free item (paying for entertainment is one thing, paying for non-existent items is beyondme). I dislike the idea of Microsoft points in the Xbox marketplace and I don’t like the idea of having to pay for second life dollars and real estate.”

The fact of the matter is, these virtual worlds aren’t real!!  It doesn’t seem entirely ethical to me to be making millions off of something that doesn’t even exist, and this is why I don’t agree with Dibbell’s business venture. It seems somewhat exploitative; on the other hand, however, people seem to be willing to buy their virtual loot online, even though it fails to actually exist.

What I have to say about this is simple: virtual communities foster some sense of togetherness, but once we go over the boundary of paying for these free good I think people have gone too far.  Go out and explore your real life! Don’t be so dependent on the computer screen and a fantasy world when there are real problems not only in the world but in your own life. I think the rising dependence on virtual communities is unhealthy for the overall online and real world communities.

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.

Gone are the days of one way memos and letters from companies to customers; ushered in is an era of two way communication and consumer feedback. This has become the crux of the internet revolution.

Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations tap into the online phenomenon of blogging for business. According to the authors, businesses can benefit exceptionally from this method of communication.

Scoble and Israel list six pillars of successful blogging:

  1. Publishable: the consumer has the ability and freedom to publish their voice
  2. Conversational/social: a two-way method of creating and sustaining a dialogue
  3. Findable: the information on the blog is indexed in search engines
  4. Viral/Shareable: making things shareworthy; information that is spread through multiple blogs
  5. Syndicatable: RSS friendly
  6. Linkable: the ability to link to other bloggers

SpreadFirefox, or SFX, is a great example of taking a marketing campaign and letting it excel through blogs. Just a few years ago, Mozilla Firefox was a no name company attempting to make their internet browser the new Microsoft Explorer. Through the SpreadFirefox campaign, they were able to use the six pillars of a successful blog to let the internet browser spread organically through cyberspace. The success of SFX is attributed to sustainable word-of-mouth and not to buzz marketing; the difference between the two shows a marked difference between SFX and other followers that unsuccessfully tried to spread their initiatives organically as well. Companies have been made or broken in the past few years, depending on their ability (or inability) to blog.

Microsoft started a blog called Channel 9 to help humanize their big company. Channel 9 fosters a sense of community among Microsoft employees and customers alike, and encourages an ongoing conversation and a collaborative wiki that users can participate in. This discussion forum model has been extremely popular, with all sorts of users participating on the website. The most successful blogs seem to be those that deliver information to consumers, while also allowing customers to contribute to the conversation. This allows for a dynamic exchange and sets a platform for feedback and support. As Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba discuss in Citizen Marketers, it is this exchange between the company and the consumers that generates the power and importance of citizen marketers.

CEO blogging has also flourished in the past few years. Corporate blogging is the pipeline of success between a company and their consumer. Companies from GM to Whole Foods have all actively engaged in this level of blogging by putting their CEOs at the forefront of their image. CEO blogs are the closest that people will get to seeing the face of the company–the importance of corporate blogs shouldn’t go unnoticed.

There are so many aspects to business blogs–whether it’s a CEO blogging about the daily goings on of a company, the spread of new initiatives and ideas through viral blogging, or creating a platform for developers, employees, and consumers to get together, business blogging has proved that communication is a two way street.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about The Politico before last night. I always thought that the paper was a DC equivalent of The Hill or Roll Call, but I found out during the JHU Communication Roundtable that I was wrong. In less than a year, the newspaper has managed to thrive in a realm of niche journalism focusing on national politics. The Politico successfully does what so many newspapers are trying to do: fuse together old school journalism with new school journalism. What makes The Politico different, however, is that it’s been built from the ground up with these founding principles.

Continuing Gillmor’s reading from last week, the author discusses professional journalists who in some way succumb to the changing norms of journalism…The Politico is a perfect example of this. Right here in our own backyard, a few journalists from prominent news institutions ranging from The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post got together in January of 2007 to create a web based news service for consumers of political news. In doing so, they have broken down typical journalistic molds to create a new platform for political news consumption. As executive editor Jim VandeHai said yesterday, it was not an idea that was years in the making but rather something that came to a head given the state of current journalism.

What is The Politico trying to accomplish? Their long mission statement includes:

“Reading a story should be just as interesting as talking with the reporter over a sandwich or a beer. It’s a curiosity of journalism that this often isn’t true. The traditional newspaper story is written with austere, voice-of-God detachment. These newspaper conventions tend to muffle personality, humor, accumulated insight — all the things readers hunger for as they try to make sense of the news and understand what politicians are really like. Whenever we can, we’ll push against these limits. In the process, we’ll share with readers a lot more of what we know instead of leaving it in our notebooks.”

At last night’s roundtable, Jim VandeHei expressed that The Politico is based on the mentality that “we live in an entrepreneurial age, not an institutional one.” The Politico prides themselves on this notion, and encourages their readers to participate in the dialogue. The paper caters to a community of consumers that is already interested in politics. They take news from various sources, and also have their own set of reporters to go out there and find out what’s happening. Above all else, they allow and encourage readers of their website to contribute to the conversation through comments and distribution. Multimedia, open forums, and live chats are among the tools used by The Politico to keep their readers interested and engaged in the world of politics. Their partnerships with TV news have allowed them to get their name on television and cooperate with different forms of media. The founders of The Politico have used their experiences at other publications to create a new kind of political newspaper–one that takes the successes from large newspapers, while also taking the desirable qualities of grassroots journalism and online blogging.

I can’t help but wonder what Dan Gillmor would think of what these journalists have done at The Politico. Gillmor admits that even in the world of blogging and citizen journalists, he still reads The New York Times and other Big Media as so many of us do. So is The Politico successful in meeting a common ground for both sides of the spectrum–old fashioned newspapers on one side, and bloggers on the other? I’d have to say so.

National news sources are using The Politico–whether out of curiosity for what The Politico is doing, or actually using the information from the website in their own newspapers. USA Today, the most circulated newspaper in America, uses politico.com on their own website.

Given all this information, one thing is for sure: ” If The Politico succeeds, it could signal that the Web has become a more plausible alternative for mainstream journalists.” (NYT, 1.8.07) I think Gillmor would agree.

We’re all contributing to the new magnum of journalism–grassroots journalism–whether we are actively creating content or we are participating in the strata by reading blogs online. In Dan Gillmor’s We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By The People, For The People, Gillmore argues that blogs and instant news really got to a whole new level during and after 9.11.01. While citizen journalism was prevalent before the attacks on the Twin Towers, the devastating events on that day made people across all levels of society require news instantaneously.

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Blogs have changed our culture and general news consumption. Everyone from news outlets to politicians to celebrities understand the power of the blog, and its importance in our society today. While websites were once standard on the online forum, blogs have become the new standard. Gawker and Wonkette supply local gossip for New York and Washington respectfully, while even The New York Times has a tracker function that lists the most popular articles that have been linked in blogs as determined by blogrunner.com.

While Gillmor states that CNN refused to use blogs on their website, their website almost functions as a blog in and of itself–it is constantly updated with information, videos, content, and comments. A spokesman for CNN said that “CNN.com prefers to take a more structured approach to presenting the news. We do not blog. CNN.com will continue to provide photo galleries, video clips, breaking stories and interactive modules as a way to involve readers in learning about the war” (Gillmor, p. 116).

….Sounds an awful lot like a blog to me (maybe minus actual commentary an partisanship). Gillmor argues that the outright denouncement of blogging held in jeopardizing the network’s online reputation.

CNN recovered by finally succumbing to the flourishing trend of blogs. There is now a special section on their website which lists their current blogs–I counted seventeen blogs on their website today, and I’m sure many others will follow in the future. These blogs include Anderson Cooper’s, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s, and a Political Ticker. In addition to meeting those demands, CNN also has a list of podcasts, RSS Feeds, and CNN Mobile and Radio options.

And now with a simple WordPress account, almost anybody can be a blogger. A great example of a blogger-turned-journalist is Perez Hilton–a virtual nobody two years ago, he has turned himself into somebody that all the celebrities fear. He loves getting the rumor mill started and takes pride in pushing the envelope.

With the blurred line between journalists and bloggers, however, would bloggers really be able to call themselves a journalist? Would they be able to attend press events under the label of “journalist”? Are they that readily acceptable at mainstream events yet? It’s a big gray area right now that seems to become less and less defined as more and more bloggers sign up for blog accounts every day. These are questions that have been raised that Gillmor does not entirely investigate in his book. What he does argue, however, is that an education in journalism does not mean what it once did (p. 131). Thanks to blogging, journalism is an ever changing institution with diminishing barriers and increased possibilities.

It’s no surprise that the National Gallery of Art wants to update their website and make their overall approach more savvy to Web 2.0 criteria. The problem, however, lies in keeping the museum a distinguished figure in the art arena while also making it something that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

NGA should allow collaboration on their website—without totally losing control. In doing so, they are the content holders even if they are not always the content creators. They can also use outside sources—such as a YouTube channel or a Flickr gallery—to get people to contribute their own videos.

This means that NGA should use crowdsourcing to a certain degree. They’re not relinquishing total control, but they’re still allowing museum goers to interact with the art and product their own.

Michael Sikorsky elaborates on this idea by saying that “crowdsourcing is the distinction between the wisdom of crowds and the participation of crowds. Not a lot of people separate these two but I try to separate them a lot. Sometimes you do not want both.”

In NGA’s case, they need to couple the idea of crowdsourcing with communications professionals at the museum. The communications pros can provide the necessary channels for museum goers to participate online while not creating their own material. It’s a tricky balance, but if the gallery aims to be up to par with their competitors it’s a necessary step.

Once the foundation of Web 2.0 is established for NGA’s new website, they need to make sure that people are eager and willing to collaborate. Angelo Sotira details the Deviant Art website and how it evolved into the artist community that it is today. Deviant Art is now one of the largest art forums on the web. Artists of all kinds come together in this outlet to express themselves.

Deviant Art may solve the problem that NGA could have in terms of controlling the content that people contribute to the website or other channels. Crowdsourcing gets difficult—unless people come to understand what to contribute. According to Sotira, the cultural context determines what is acceptable:

“And what it comes down to is culture, because our culture dictates what is and what isn’t okay. Our culture sort of decides who is and who isn’t a great artist. Our culture decides on some level if something does or doesn’t belong here. It’s not very overt, but you will get a general sense of acceptance or rejection if you submit certain things.”

Hopefully the contributors to the National Gallery of Art website will recognize what to collaborate on and what to share, while also having the help of the museum to moderate the content. NGA has the potential to exceed the standards of their competitors. It’s a tricky balance, but one that NGA should definitely experiment with.

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