Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Blog: Share, Link, be Consistent

Slate puts on the web today some tips from Arianna Huffington's new book on blogging. See Slate's "How to Blog."

Here is the truncated list on best practices on blogging (bloggers, including Josh Marshall have told me that consistency and uniqueness are the keys):

1. Set a schedule. Blog often. Jeff Atwood, who runs the fantastic programming blog Coding Horror, told me that the key to his early success was sticking to a realistic target of six posts a week.

2. Don't worry if your posts suck a little. Unless you're Jeffrey Goldberg, your first blog post is unlikely to be perfect. Indeed, a lot of your posts aren't going to be as great as they could be if you spent many hours on them—and that's OK.

3. Write casually but clearly. This one flows from the last two—the best way to stick to a blogging schedule is to write quickly, and a good way to write quickly is to write as if you're talking to a friend.

4. Add something new. This might seem obvious, but new bloggers tend to forget it: Readers aren't going to stick with you unless you give them something they can't find elsewhere.

5. Join the bloggy conversation. And link! The only way people will find your blog is through other blogs—and you'll get other blogs to notice you by responding to what they're writing about.

6. Don't expect instant fame. Actually, don't expect any fame. There are better ways than blogging to get rich and famous.

It strikes me that sharing, consistency, uniqueness, and volunteerism are themes here, and they happen to be the themes in a lot of business literature on how to be a good worker in the global economy. How to be a good blogger and be applied to life; and many are lessons we learned in in kindergarten.

These themes have also come up over the past several months at the Carnegie Council. "Join the bloggy conversation. And Link!" is like Jay Rosen's "ethic of the link."

Similarly, Lawrence Lessig spoke recently at Carnegie Council's Public Affairs program on sharing economies or a hybrid economy. He sees the hybrid economies as those that combine the value from free and shared labor and commercial value.

The volunteerism that is often done on the web, for example social networking or product ratings, are free work that gives network power to companies. David Grewal also spoke recently about his "network power" concept:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are Politicians Their "Friends"?

I recently reconnected with a former colleague from Manila through Facebook. She invited me as a friend, I accept her as a friend, thus reaffirming our friendship, both online and off. I saw she had more than 300 friends on her list and I was curious if I would find some old friends that I wanted to be in touch with again. I did find old friends and some, namely, some politicians holding no less than national seats. This made me send her a quick message to ask: Are these senators actually your "friends"?

The Philippine political scene is apparently evolving fast. Senators and congressmen have jumped on the bandwagon of social networking, and can be found in three of the most popular sites in the Philippines - Friendster, Facebook and Multiply. A number of my Manila-based friends are "friends" with a range of colorful political characters, from the ambitious novice Senator Francis Escudero, the media-savvy Senator Richard Gordon, to the acerbic veteran Senator Joker Arroyo, whose profile is suspiciously too detailed to be the work of an 81-year-old legislator. Some senators are on Friendster, the most popular networking site in the Philippines, and popular among Internet users in the provinces.

So what does being "friends" with a politician mean? My journalist friend says sometimes she uses Facebook to contact these officials but the responses are usually not as helpful. One senator quickly responds to her questions but starts his answers with "This is off the record." Other senators reply too but, she says it is obvious that their aides are doing the replying for them.

As U.S. President Barack Obama has shown, being on social networking sites can be an effective political tool and other politicians know this all too well. And with the national elections due in May 2010, expect Facebook and Friendster to be the new campaign platforms.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Army Invades Second Life

By Joshua S. Fouts
Carnegie Council Senior Fellow
Chief Global Strategist, Dancing Ink Productions, LLC

In the wake of Google closing down its virtual world, "Lively," and Reuters noisily closing its Second Life office, you'd think that virtual worlds would warrant the Sturm und Drang predictions that have replaced an equally misguided first-round buzz of interest.

Maybe it's just growing pains.

Enter the United States Army.

Wired reporter Noah Shachtman recently blogged that the US Army will be opening up shop in the virtual world of Second Life over the next month. According to Shachtman, their effort "will actually consist of two virtual islands. One of them will serve as a ‘welcome center' with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter." The other will offer virtual experiences like, "jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon."

I asked my friend Peter W. Singer, who is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and author of the upcoming book Wired for War -- what he thought of this. (Singer's program at Brookings is notable in that it was one of the first to host a session on the impact of Second Life on the future of politics -- Singer's wife Sue works for Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life).

"A lot of credit is due to the Army for being willing to take this first step," he emailed back. "It is a great way to connect to potential recruits, who it might not reach otherwise, through a growing medium. But I hope they don't just see it as merely an advertising tool. Just like many other organizations entering Second Life have found, there is a whole new world of possibilities, as well as perils, for them to learn more about."

It's indeed a wise decision for the Army. In our research for the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project, CCEIA Senior Fellow Rita J. King and I encountered many people from around the world who found the experiences in virtual worlds offered them a safe environment in which to explore things with which they were unfamiliar. Why not present the Army in the same light? Stanford University researcher Jeremy Bailenson has already found that people take experiences in virtual worlds with them into the physical world. A May 12, 2008 Time magazine article reported "even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars [in a virtual world] is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline."

The Army might also learn something about their potential recruits in Second Life that they might not learn otherwise from meeting them in person. In an interview I conducted in January 2008 with IBM executive Sandra Kearney, Global Director for Government Research Initiatives and Programs and the lead for many years behind IBM's Virtual Universe Community, she explained that work within virtual worlds has, "made obvious the value people have beyond the box they work in all day long. I'm able to leverage in the organization the passions and the skills that the employee has by what I learn from and about them in virtual worlds. It's addressing the whole person in a really different way."

But it's also a risk--one that I'm glad to see the government taking. Ironically, these kinds of chances seem to be lead by the military more than other parts of the government. For example, in May 2000, before online video games had fully entered into the psyche of advertisers and marketers, the US Army commissioned the creation of the video game "America's Army" which was released in 2002 and later turned into a wildly popular game exceeding even the Pentagon's expectations to become the number one online action game in 2004.

There's reason for hope that other parts of the US foreign and military apparatus are watching and learning. James Glassman, US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, made a stunning announcement at the New America Foundation on December 1, 2008 about the State Department's "Public Diplomacy 2.0" efforts. Glassman, who is the "the government-wide lead in strategic communications, or war of the ideas," provides "leadership and coordination for … the Defense Department, the intelligence community, and beyond." In his speech, Glassman makes the case for the importance of integrating a full-fledged approach to Internet outreach, arguing that government needs to let go of its desire to control the message. "[I]n this new world of communications, any government that resists new Internet techniques faces a greater risk: being ignored. Our major target audiences – especially the young – don't want to listen to us lecture them or tell them what to think or how wonderful we are."

I found Glassman's words inspiring and exciting. In the fall of 2005, as director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, I had the opportunity to brief Under Secretary Glassman's predecessor Karen Hughes before she took office as Under Secretary of State. Our group recommended that, among other things, she integrate games, virtual worlds and blogs into her public diplomacy outreach strategies. Nearly three years later, I'm thrilled to see that her successor has implemented all of those ideas and more. (Disclosure: Glassman's speech also mentions a January 12, 2009 event in Second Life in which he will be appearing that Rita J. King and I will be co-hosting as part of a project with the American University in Cairo.)

Glassman argued, as do we, that virtual worlds are no substitute for real world experiences. They serve, however, as excellent gateways to better understanding people or opportunities to augment or extend ideas – such as expanding and continuing relationships formed in exchange programs.

While the Army is considering Second Life, maybe they should also consider theater. A year ago, Rita J. King wrote about a play by the Scottish National Theater called "Blackwatch." The play, about the famed Scottish military regiment, described the collapse of the unit after their involvement in the War in Iraq. The play's tour in the US was funded by the British Council, the public diplomacy arm of the British Government. It shed unique insight into the British experience in the US-led War on Terror.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to get a better understanding of a US soldier's experience in the Iraq War. I was a participant in the off-Broadway production of "Surrender," a play co-written by my friend Josh Fox (who coincidentally played in a high school rock band with the aforementioned Wired journalist Noah Shachtman – Shachtman played bass) and Sergeant Jason Christopher Hartley, Iraqi War veteran and author of the extremely well-written "Just Another Soldier," about his experiences in the war in Iraq. The three act play allows you to either observe or participate. I chose to participate. I arrived a few minutes late and was rushed into a changing room where I was issued a standard military uniform while the sound of a drill sergeant (played by Jason Christopher Hartley) barked orders to a group to do push-ups until the latecomers were ready. The play began with training in basic combat techniques including a crash course in rifle handling, room clearing and engaging the enemy. In act two I was deployed with my squad, which consisted of actors and participants, although I did not know which was which breaking into darkened rooms under the deafening cacophony of helicopter gun ships, sirens, gunfire, screams all capped my squad and company leaders fevered commands. Each room offered a different panic-inducing scenario – from interrupting a tryst and having the paramours shoot at you, to encountering an otherwise innocent looking family who also then shot at us. Act three was our hallucinatory "reintegration" into society in which the various participants were required to act out the fate of their characters. This entailed reading lines from a teleprompter while actors responded accordingly. I played the part of a soldier who had to have his legs amputated and ended in a mental institution. Next it was determined, that I had a pre-existing mental condition and would not be receiving medical coverage.

The experience participating in Surrender was a powerful one. It radically changed my view of the experience of soldiers in urban ground combat.

Surrender is opening for one week only January 7 – 12. If you're in New York City and want to understand the Army, this is one virtual experience you don't want to miss. After that, try something little more relaxing like visiting the Army's virtual offices in Second Life.

cross posted at Fairer Globalization
photo by Seb Ulysses

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media: Working Group

The media certainly have a great deal of influence over public opinion and discourse. During my recent trip to Brussels, I even heard one finance expert blame the media for the worsening of the financial crisis, saying that the media sector is stoking fear beyond reason.

Can a sense of social responsibility or ethics be instilled in the American media sector? At the Carnegie Council, we convened a small working group of media professionals called "Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media." Based on our first meeting, the following are some of the big issues that the group might explore:

balancing media coverage vs delivering a socially responsible message;

whether good behavior can be recognized without the use of certification;

distinguishing opinion from fact;

balancing the need to be entertaining and profitable with the company's role of informing societal debate.

Media CSR Forum has identified issues in three categories: those that are common to all sectors (such as the environment); those that have implications for the media (such as intellectual property); and those that are specific to the media (such as media literacy).

In this final category, the Forum has identified media literacy as a common concern and workable issue for its stakeholders. Its campaign asks, for example: Are you a receptacle for the unacceptable?

Trust in the media has been increasing in several countries, according to the Forum's research. It was surmised that public engagement, such as conferences, and transparency in the media sector could be given partial credit for this improvement.

How to create incentives for better behavior? I asked the group whether non-bottom line and non-shareholder issues could influence behavior. What about moral suasion? Can the interaction of peers and competitors at working groups facilitate better behavior? What about certification, reputation risk, association in a working group? Can these things build trust among competitors? One practitioner suggested that we attempt to shape popular culture to create moral suasion, tying brand, culture, and CSR.

There appeared to be traction in this area since "self-regulation is preferable to government regulation." One way could be to share information on each company's internal code of conduct toward improving the sector's conduct and embedding good behavior in corporate culture. One code of conduct for the sector as a whole is a possibility especially if stakeholders demand it.

Nevertheless, it will be challenging to create a universal code since there are so many types of media (music, new media, print, etc.). I asked if we could use the Equator Principles as a model. It was noted that those Principles worked because they were targeted specifically to project finance, suggesting that the more focused, the better. One practitioner wondered how we would know when a CSR ethic was embedded in the company? Is it already there? How do you embed it?On media literacy, one practitioner wondered whether the focus might be better placed on examining infotainment. In other words, which comes first: creating a better product or teaching people how to use it? The cart or the horse?

A code of media ethics should be connected to how media companies relate to their readers and stakeholders. Indeed, a business case for ethical practices will be made if readers demand it. Shareholders will get the message. One of the companies in NYC is trying to engage its readers directly with its editorials and by making its style guides available. Advances have been made in distinguishing fact from opinion in print by using different font treatment. One practitioner agreed that demands from clients can also change ethical practices dramatically. What if large newspapers demanded green policies from clients wishing to run green ads?

It was noted that CSR is coming back because there is now a struggle to define CSR, and this struggle is creating opportunity. One observer said that while CSR is on the minds of media executives in the big cities, it has not yet reached the heartland, yet this market could have a big effect if tapped, suggesting another opportunity.

Overall, CSR can be seen as a business opportunity and a way to reduce risk. This is the lens through which a task force can make a case.Another approach toward introducing CSR in the media is for the media to critically assess corporate behavior and then report on it. Corporations can engage the media for more critical self-assessment.

Several participants noted that American top tier media companies have a responsibility to make the case for climate change mitigation. Future meetings might take emulate the Media CSR Forum's model and bring in experts from media and civil society to speak.