Thursday, November 27, 2008

Twitter: the New Platform for "Citizen Journalism"

Twitter: Platform for Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism has a very special place in my heart. I started my career roughly 10 years ago, right after I made my first film. That same summer and fall, I went to intern at Globalvision, Inc. My two bosses, Danny Schechter and Rory O'Connor became my first real- life mentors outside of school. I graduated high school early, but dropped out of college to roam around Independent Media Centers during the 2000 elections. It was the closest I came to the "joining the circus" experience.

There was a sense of revolution in the air because it was the first time independent media makers across the United States came together to produce their own live national television without the support of corporate media. They were veterans riding the wave of the IMF protests in Seattle. I was the new kid on the block, quiet literally. Folks who knew about the productions tuned into their local public access channels to watch the two live shows: Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Crashing the Party with Laura Flanders. These were the days before YouTube.

I feel like the same revolution is happening right here, right now on the Internet. This revolution is called Twitter. It's been THE new platform to get a feel of trends and what's on people's minds. But today, folks on twitter kicked it up another notch with the Mumbai blasts. A lot of folks reported from the ground: @mumbaiattacks went up, @dina kept feeding us with info, @vinu posted his photos of the blasts, and THEN CNN International called him to comment. Even journalists had to tune in to twitter to get the news as @rotkapchen tweeted here.

We shared our concerns, our worries, our anger (I'm still pissed the Deepak Chopra's the only "Indian expert" mainstream media can find!) then people like Michael Leis and David Cushman went on to blog about the twitter experience. You can't get anymore real time than this -- the news happened, it was broadcast, digested, then commentary followed right away. Plus, this is happening at the speed of thought. THAT to me is a "revolution". How will this revolution evolve? We'll just have to wait and see, some are calling it "Web 3.0". More on that later...

Photo by Conform

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Social Media: Bridging Conversations

Ok, I was going to leave this as a comment on Jeff Pulver's blog post but it became really long as I was writing it so I'm doing it as a post. This is a 'response' post to his "Sometimes We Need to Do Things Alone" post.

When I had to venture into social network marketing I felt alone. Not that I didn't know what it was, I wasn't in charge before. The vision wasn't mine. This time around, I wanted to implement a social media strategy, something that is going to work across all platforms that one person can do -- I didn't have a team either. There was just me and my targets. I did blogs before, there were mentors like Brain Clark who writes Copyblogger and Darren Rowse who writes on ProBlogger. Then I had to get into email/newsletter marketing, where there were a lot of articles to read and a mentor in the office. Then, the person left and when I had to go into social media marketing I felt lost even though I was on the scene since it all started with (the now defunct) Bolt and Friendster.

I had to come up with my own experiments and see what worked and what didn't. I had to come up with ways to measure the experiments. I felt like I was doing a science fair project which excited me but I also felt like a train that kept going without the tracks. Then I read Michael Leis's blog post on the future of social media -- something that I was already doing for a year or so now. I really didn't have a word for it except, "guerilla marketing". He called it "screenwriting". His post hit home so close that I had to connect with him on Twitter immediately! I asked him how many people he thinks that does this sort of marketing. His reply was, none. I was surprised of course. We "Direct Messaged" back and forth until the point when he asked me, "It's all experimenting. No?"

The light bulb in my head went off: "AHA!" It was when I realized I was actually at the edge, at the forefront like the rest of the social media gurus and marketers out there. It's hard to realize that when you're geographically isolated, all the way in India. Most people I talk to don't know what Twitter is or don't care. Some can't migrate to Facebook from Orkut, the social network run by Google. I got my bearings right after our brief DMing and the picture became clear: the Internet has an ever expanding edge, today it's social networks, tomorrow it might be evolving into something else -- "a mash" if you will. That drive for evolution I feel is the adrenaline that keeps the cogs in all of us turning. That's what glues me to the Internet and my computers everyday. That's why I can still be sitting in India and talk about the same stuff, the same popular subjects out west like the election, economy, environment, etc.

I wasn't able to do this when I moved from New York half way round the world to Calcutta almost six years ago. Life sucked then, movies would not be here for months after they released in New York. I hated it. I spent my formative years in New York, I loved being "in-the-know", I hung out in the Village, I did artsy-trendy stuff. I made films, assisted on documentaries, spoke at conferences and screenings, listened to spoken word and underground music...

All of a sudden, when I landed in India, I found myself not being able to join in on conversations with my friends -- I felt left out and really isolated. On top of that, we had dial up -- the "Internet" was still making its way through terrible phone lines of Calcutta. This city was KNOWN for its bad phone lines!

A lot of things have changed since then. I don't feel so isolated now. In fact, I think Twitter makes us all on one page, albeit, I'm a couple of hours ahead. ^_^! But thanks to the boom in social networks and social media, I'm back in touch with friends even from high school. Some of them are diplomat brats like me who are scattered across the world. Most of them are still in New York. Some of them are professors. My algebra teacher is a professor at Harvard (how cool is that!)

It seems like I'm the only one who made it out to India, but I'm not complaining anymore, I realized that I'm not missing the action. In fact, the action might be here in the coming months and years. So I got the front row seats. I just happened to be lucky that it's part of my job to be on Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Bebo, Twitter, et cetera... of course it's also a good excuse to keep in touch with friends. As someone who grew up in the 80s, someone who loves making connections, and most importantly, as a writer, I don't think I'd rather do anything else right now... except for a project I'm working on for Myanmar or Burma (I don't belong to either camp) but that's another story for another day.