Windows into the Imagination

Monday, June 13, 2011

Social Media Explosion

On Monday, May 2nd, at 1 AM Pakistani local time, a Twitter user with the handle, 'ReallyVirtual', tweeted this to a San Francisco-based microblogging service:
Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)
Shortly afterwards:
A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S
This was soon followed by a succession of rapid-fire tweets telling of a helicopter crashing, a family dying and then soldiers cordoning off part of the neighborhood and searching door-to-door.
Welcome to live coverage of the death of Osama Bin Laden by an unwitting computer programmer
…and a new era in social networking.

In the recent disasters in Japan, when everything seemed to fail and before the reporters could get to the disaster to inform the news-thirsty masses, Twitter seemed to be working and we got live reports from people living the disaster, as well as raw footage of nature in its deadly fury.
Did anyone else find that amazing?
Then I started noticing this term, iReporters, basically ordinary citizens reporting on the news as it is happening, where they are, completely unvetted or cleared. It's not a new term by any means. CNN already had a separate website for such amateur reporting, but it has now incorporated it on a page on its main CNN news site. Perhaps recognizing the power of these social-media-fueled sources moving into the mainstream consciousness.

We also have the role of social-media in the political muddles of Egypt, Libya and other non-expression-friendly countries. In Libya, which has severe restrictions imposed on the media, the internet has emerged as an important window through which traditional media can provide coverage of unrest.
Despite Libya having one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the Arab world (around 5.5%), and even though there was a military-enforced media blackout and Libyan TV showing images of Qadhafi rallies and quiet streets, ordinary citizens were uploading and Tweeting the real news:  protests in the streets brutally put down, mercenary armies—staunchly denied by state officials—roaming the streets, and disturbing images of burnt and dismembered bodies lying in the streets, victims of air attacks on protesters.

Some notable quotes:
"Twitter is playing a huge role with people getting images of violence out to the outside world. Its main value has been to bear witness,” said Eliza Griswold, author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. 1
"Despite (its) relative infancy, these networks have already changed the way journalists work and how stories are sourced, shared and discussed. And the speed of change shows no signs of slowing, with social search just one of the latest challenges for organizations to harness and adapt to." 2

Twitter and Google worked together during the Egyptian uprisings to make sure that the voices of the people on the streets continued to be heard despite the crackdowns.
The number of people signing up to Twitter increased exponentially during that period.

Content-piracy and identity-theft seem minor in the face of these world-shattering, social-media fueled events. The public is finding its voice, and its power in a way that has governments and entire industries scrambling around trying to understand its implications and squinting to read the writing on the wall.

Will future covert-ops have to take those insomnia-plagued and obsessive tweeters into consideration?
How do you stop the internet from messing up your dictatorship?
What is the impact of iReporting on the news industry? Will they face similar challenges to the publishing industry?

Here are a few staggering numbers:
Facebook was launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006, less than a decade ago, but for many, it has already become an integral part of their lives.
There are now more social-networking accounts than there are people in the world according to figures from In-Stat, with approximately 10 billion social-networking and online-world accounts in 2010 and about 4.5 billion of those are active.
U.S. Online Ad Revenue has hit a record high, spending $26 billion last year in the U.S., representing a year-over-year gain of 15 %.
eMarketer forcasts Facebook will have $4 billion in ad revenues worldwide in 2011. Twitter is expected to attract $150 million and growing.
Facebook has over 500 million active users. That's active users, and 50% of them log onto FB on any given day. The average user has 130 friends. 56% of social media users check Facebook at least once a day. 12% check it every few hours. FB accounts for 45% of the total time spent using the mobile internet in the UK.
iPhone users are the most 'social' online and are most likely to check Facebook and Twitter from beds.
Twitter is growing at an astounding 2,656 %, reaching more than 13 million people in the US during the month, and that's just on its website.
In a recent statistic, more than 43% of Brits, aged 55-74, use the internet frequently. That's 55-74, not the young people who, of course are even more tied to their online obsessions. 11% of internet users over 65 have a social networking site profile, up from 3% in 2007. That's compared to 54% of the overall population, up from 22% in 2007.
3 years, 2 months and 1 day. This is the time it took from the very first Tweet in 2006, to the billionth Tweet.  The time it takes for users to send a billion Tweets now?  1 week.
When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, there were a record of 456 Tweets per second.
The record now? 6,939. Set 4 seconds after midnight in Japan on New Year’s Day.

When Mother Nature rages and societies crumble, social media will get the news out.

2 "Don't write off the traditional media yet," by Damian Radcliffe, College of Journalism, May 25, 2011
Other sources:
How social media gets information to Libyan population
Top ten numbers on social networking versus TV
The role social media has played in the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings
Social Networking Watch
Twitter Stats from Social Media Statistics
Our Social Media Obsession by the Numbers [STATS]
 March 17, 2010 by Jennifer Van Grove
"Pakistani programmer unknowingly tweets bin Laden operation," from The Globe and Mail, May. 02, 2011
"Osama bin Laden killed: Pakistani man live tweets deadly raid," by Bonnie Malkin, The Telegraph, May 2, 2011
CNN FAQs for iReporters
"Twitter at five: five ways it changed the world," by  @gordonmacmillan, March 25, 2011

I was watching bad-boy superchef, Gordon Ramsey on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. One of the diners was a restaurant reviewer. All of a sudden there was frantic whispering by Gordon to the anxious restaurant-owners trying to salvage their dying establishment. What was the fuss? The reviewer was live-texting her opinion of the restaurant to her followers. Talk about nerve-wracking.

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