Tyepad DDoS-attack: change of design, no change of heart

Finally picking up blogging here again, after a six month hiatus, regular readers might notice my blog has a new design (if you’re not all reading this blog via RSS-feed only).

The reason? April’s DDoS-attack on Typepad, which, as I wrote on Facebook was "a really interesting story - worth at least a blog post if not my blog was down".

On a superficial level, it prompted me to change my blog template as my former design template looked really weird, loading sidebars before main content, in the periods when Typepad was struggling to keep its blogs online/ starting to bring the blogs back online.

 But the DDoS-attack was of course interesting for several more profound reasons:

 1) On a macro level: if it had been Facebook an not Typepad suffering about a week of downtime it would have been on the front page of (all?) national newspapers. The way people talked about the downtime was indicative of both a) Typepad's dwindling influence & b) its decent customer service - the impressive amount of good will expressed by frustrated users=impressive)  

2) Have we truly come to this? Attempts at ransoming (almost-)major internet services with a DDoS-Attack?

3) On a micro level: this would have completely ruined my weekend six years ago, when I guess I was fairly addicted to blogging. As it happened, the DDoS-attack meant I finally got around to cleaning down that gas grill I've recently inherited and doing all sorts of other practical things.

You see, I had been planning to finally pick up blogging here again that weekend, it was Easter I believe, and a welcome holiday from a demanding life (work and stuff).  

Life’s demanded every little morsel of energy I could muster recently, involving a job I love and some other stuff which I might get around to blogging about eventually, so I’ve ended up being a somewhat passive consumer of social media as a result of it – using social media to relax (reading, surfing, listening) rather than contributing all that much myself.

So I was longing for some proper blogging time again, and Easter seemed to provide it – if only my blog hadn’t been down.

Sort of. That’s not entirely true as I do have a Norwegian Wordpress blog I could have used, where I mainly blog about more personal stuff, but the DDoS-attack on Typepad put me sufficiently off blogging that I got around to cleaning down that gas grill instead (while keeping a watch on the DDoS-attack via Twitter. So, I’m not entirely cured of  that slightly obsessive interest in blogging and all things internet-related, but my approach to social media seems to move in phases – a bit like life and my approach to other things).    

In fact, blogging seems a hard habit to break. During those weeks and months of non-blogging, I found myself mental blogging a lot – writing sketches for blog posts in my mind whenever I came across things I felt like, but didn’t find time to, blog about .

So this summer I’m hoping to do a bit of back blogging  as one of the most useful uses of my blog for me has always been as a backup brain /backup of my own mind, which, in light of the recent DDoS-attack, really should prompt me to find a way of creating a back up of my blog.

Especially since I’ve also been told that Typepad has messed up the coding of its blogs in a way which makes it really cumbersome and time-consuming to move a Typepad-blog (as opposed to e.g. a Wordpress-blog to a new blogging platform).  So any ideas on this, efficient ways to back up my blog, are very welcome.  

#backblogging


The Internet hereby declared public

Meet the blogger who changed the law, sort of. Or whose case at least prompted Norwegian legislators to introduce legal amendments to allow for the Internet to be treated as a public place.

This story really, truly, beggars belief, but due to outdated computer systems Norwegian authorities have been unable to implement the updated version of the country’s penal code even though it was passed many years ago.

This means that for instance, Anders Behring Breivik, the terrorist behind the worst mass slaughter in modern Norwegian history, could not be sentenced under the terror paragraph as authorities have been unable to implement the updated penal code, which introduces a terror paragraph (I blogged more about this in 2011 here, in Norwegian).

But it also means judges were unable to send a controversial blogger to jail last summer for encouraging people on his blog to kill police officers, as – hang on – the internet, according to the old version of the penal code is not a public place (whereas in the updated version the authorities have been unable to implement the internet is). Read more about last summer’s verdict against the mentioned blogger here (in Norwegian, but this link deals with the legal considerations).

Luckily, that has propelled legislators to amend the relevant paragraph (§7) of the penal code they are stuck with until managing to implement the close to a decade old updated version of it. So now, even Norwegian law considers the internet to be a public place. Aftenposten has a witty comment on the implications here.

But I really needed to file this story to my blog archive of unbelievable but unfortunately true stories from our brave new media/IT-world, so I can look up the details easily whenever I marvel about the absurdity of it.

I interviewed the blogger in question in the aftermath of 22/7, he was then quite sympathetic to some of the things Breivik represented, but we chose to anonymise him as we were uncertain about his sanity in light of some of the things he said. That of course, is just a side note, the bigger, more important story is how outdated IT-structures (the police systems they are replacing run on Windows NT 4.0 !) seriously hamper police work and the outcome of trials - such as in this case, with the blogger who walked free because he made his threats online and not in print .

Btw, Vampus is right of course: even without this mess surrounding §7 of the penal code and IT-systems, it was never the case even in Norway that you could say whatever you liked online without potentially facing legal reprecussions. Recently another blogger has been sentenced for libel due to accusations made in a blog post, but I'm just blown by the absurdity of the above story.


Welcome to the post-industrial journalistic age

Well, would you have believed: Just as you thought the media was becoming more industrialised than ever. Just as the steady stream of cost cuts, lay-offs, consolidation, online traffic partnerships and industrial scale copy-paste-steal practice popularly dubbed aggregation reached new heights.

Just as you thought the media was looking more and more as an electronic herd stuck on the treadmill of doom: 

The new media revival, the post-industrial journalistic age finally arrives. It's just that, as with most future paradigms about to become present ones, the implementation is unevenly distributed. 

The end of big (media) arrives, and news organisations move from brands to platforms for talent (Nieman Journalism lab), and we can finally glimpse what newsroom organisation in a post-industrial journalistic age will loook like (Emily Bell).

One could have been mistaken for writing this development down to how social media, and particularly blogs, forever changed publishing and enabled a revolution in personal brand building - allowing everyone with the skill and inclination to build his or her individual super brand and loyal community.

Except, by now the blog is long dead, The New York Times commits blogicide and The New Republic publishes the umpteenth eulogy for the blog in the history of blogging.  

Pardon me if I sound sarcastic, I actually didn't set out to be: When I started writing this blog post I just planned to collect some really interesting links in one place as a back up for my brain - in true, traditional link blogging style.

But I'm struck by the many ironies and paradoxes here, even if I do think there's lots of thoughts worth pondering in the two first posts I link to.

I'm not so sure about the third: It describes an interesting trend, but I don't think I agree with the conclusions.

I'm more inclined to agree with Björn Staerk (aka Bearstrong), who in a recent history of Norwegian blogging (described here) writes something like this (I'm paraphrasing him slightly):

Personally, I feel that because everything has become blog, nothing is blog, and as a result we should get rid of the word entirely... The blog is dead because today everything online is streams of information, and everything is user friendly. 

And where does that leave the media?

The media has certainly become more blog-like in several respects, and absorbed both some of blogging's best practices and the blogworld's best bloggers (such as Björn Staerk, whom Aftenposten has had the wisdom to employ as a columnist).

Perhaps, and at the moment it certainly looks like, that might lead to a future where media acts as a platform for individual brands and talented curators. Or a future where big media uses the pull of its mass audience to act as a platform for niche sites, entering into partnerships with one-topic-sites on issues ranging from politics to technology, as well as specialist bloggers, rather than employing anything but a skeleton staff itself. 

What do you think?

As implied above, I didn't set out to write this post because I have all the answers here, but these are trends I've found myself pondering recently...

See also:


New Book: A history of Norwegian blogging

Here's a book I just discovered is hot off the press today, a book I've been working as a bit of a backstage assistant for, and am delighted to finally see published.

It's a history of Norwegian blogging, and the book's title roughly translates to something like "Give me a stage! Norwegian blog history - ten years of terror, trauma and today's outfit".

The book is an anthology where prominent Norwegian bloggers charts this history in personal essays, focusing on how blogging changed their own lives and what wider impact it has had. More about the book here, in Norwegian. And the launch is set for next Tuesday, more about that event here (also in Norwegian): 

 

GiMegEnScene




Blogging just landed me a new place to live - hence the radiosilence

This might be old news if you follow me on any of my Norwegian social media profiles, but I thought I'd take a few minutes to explain the radio silence on this blog last month:

I was tired of my search for a nice place to rent dragging on and on, wrote a blog post about the flat search, the post got reweeted by lots of helpful souls - and the process landed me the place where I now live.

Success :-)

Except moving is a true nightmare. I worry way too much about everything that may go wrong along the way, and find it hard to stop worrying until everyting is done and dusted.

I saw this place for the first time end of January, signed the contract mid-Feburary, and has been moving ever since next to a full-time job and other work committments. I'm delighted with my new home and how I came to live here, but I've only just managed to unpack all my books (well, save one box) this weekend.

I'll admit I've had a strong inkling to only share lots of house- and moving related stuff online the last few weeks, but thought I'd better abstain for the most part (instead I'm afraid my colleagues have borne the brunt of this temporary obsession).

I hope to get back to blogging about media related stuff, and an exciting book launch coming up, next week.

In the meantime I'm very proud of this mess as these boxes are all empty (finally) and ready to be put away in storage:

Boxes


50 blogs by journalists, for journalists

Now, here’s a really pleasant surprise which really made my day on Thursday: This blog is included on Journalism.co.uk’s terrific list of 50 blogs by journalists, for journalists.

The news reached me when I was at the mercy of a very angry sinus infection, after having covered a ministerial visit to a building site on a freezing Monday afternoon, and I wasn’t even aware of the list being put together – so it was an extra pleasant surprise. 

It must be said though, that this blog never did have journalists as its specific target group.

It just sort of ended up rather quickly as blog on information, social media, traditional media, media acquisitions, journalism and all those sort of things.

Over the years it has very much shaped my career and work, it was almost like this blog took on a life on its own –  by the way it revealed me to be a media nerd, shaped my public persona and created all sorts of wonderful job offers and career avenues for me.

That is a major reason why these days I constantly regret not finding time to blog more here – I write for three different blogs, for a quite a while I was even paid to write a forth one for Norway’s most read news site, and at the moment I’m involved with quite a few book projects next to a very rewarding, full-time job.

Incidentally, one such project is a history of Norwegian blogging, an anthology, which is due to be published in March - so I've found myself reflecting a lot on my personal blogging history recently (I first got acquainted with blogs when I was doing work experience for a print newspaper close to Fleet Street in 2002, and it's so ironic to look back and realise that blogs ended up being much more helpful for my media career than that stint of work experience. I certainly had no idea it would turn out like this at the time).

These days though, I must admit I do more mental blogging than actual blogging. I have all these blog posts almost fully written up in my mind – I just need to find the time to actually sit down and do the writing. I keep promising myself I will do. In the meantime, it seems I’ve at least seen the end of that sinus infection. That’s a start, I guess.


9/11: Internet just couldn't keep up to speed

What I remember most vividly about 9/11 is a woman alternately sobbing, crying and screaming over the phone line as the drama unfolded on the TV-screen.

I was at home in East Finchley, London, working on my masters project, when my ex-partner called me and asked me to turn on the television. Maybe he called me twice, I'm not sure now, but he was working for Aon at the time, and Aon had 1100 employees in the South Tower.

A key competitor, Marsh and McLennan, had several hundred in the North Tower. Luckily, my ex was in the London office, but there were many Americans working in that office too, not to mention how so many had close ties to colleagues New York.

So I have no idea who that woman in Aon's London office was, maybe there was more than one, but those terrible sounds of distress over the phone line while I was simultaneously talking to my ex and watching the drama on TV is what I remember most strongly about the day.

Those sounds of distress somehow made the events of the day both more heart-wrenching and more real as I have to admit that what unfolded on the TV-screen was almost too surreal to grasp.

I remember too being frustrated by how slow my internet connection was, I was using a dial-up modem, and by how slow many international news sites were to load and update.

Still, internet, TV and the mobile were my key sources of information on the unfolding events, even though my mobile wasn't smart back then and only was used for phone calls and text messages (on 22/7, all my information for five hours or more after the bomb went off came via either my own or friends' smartphones).

I do wish Twitter was around.

I've seen some pundits say they were glad it wasn't, but what we saw with the recent terror in Norway was that even though rumours abounded the twitterati didn't go over the top with rumours and misguided, hateful attacks the way we saw on Facebook.

I also wish I had the sense to keep up with the blogging adventures friends of mine embarked on just after 9/11. But as the job market took a nose dive, and I handed in my masters thesis just after 9/11, all I did for two months there was sending out hundreds of job applications. 

Since I couldn't even seem to be able to land an admin job, I stopped by three local pubs one day - and was offered a job by two of them.

Amazingly, taking up a job in the pub I did turned out to be a brilliant career move as I met one of my most important mentors there - and many of the regulars gave me lots of tips for jobs and other stuff (actually, working in a pub is a lot like being a blogger - but that's a topic for another blog post, one I've failed to finish for the last three years or so;-) )

And the rest is history, isn't that what they say?

Actually, I caught up with the blogging phenomena one year later, in 2002, and there's so much to say on 9/11, so many thoughts and feelings - especially after the atrocities of 22/7 in Norway this summer - that I thought I'd better just stick to the facts for now.


Why did you stop blogging?

Erm... well, actually I never did.

So when someone asked me this question at a conference, where I was giving a talk about the state of digital media, recently, I thought it was about time I'd deliver on my promise to myself to start blogging more here again (the person who asked me was referring specifically to this blog).

In short, my blogging so seldom here as of late is only because I took on a few new assignments, which involves blogging, columnisting and writing elsewhere - and moved. House hunting and moving took up a lot of my time in the months before Christmas.

Also, for the last half year, my beat has changed somewhat. It's weird how covering media go through phases: one year it's all about M&As (06-07), then social media (08-09), then tech (2010). Seriously, even the media journalism I've done in 2010 (mostly magazine features and working as a media columnist) was predominantly about tech.

2010 was the year where all the focus of the media industry seemed to shift to digital platforms – in particular smart phones and tablets - while internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter continued to influence a changing media landscape. So it's only natural that as of August the main gist of my work changed from covering the media industry to focusing more on how the tech industry is influencing our day to day lives.

That does not mean I've stopped following the media industry or will change the focus of this blog dramatically, I'm also still in charge of the Norwegian Online News Association.

But I do think a blog is something that kind of grows with the blogger, and my focus has shifted somewhat over the last year or so. Certain media stories tire me, certainly the more newsy ones where you feel this is just history repeating for the umpteenth time. But media change still fascinates me.

To be honest, it's perhaps more precise to say that change fascinates me, and at the moment it's like we're standing in a flood of change, one where the undercurrents are so strong it's hard not to be swept away with the flood. That makes for interesting times, my only challenge is finding time to write about it all...

Actually, while talking about how media coverage go through phases, here's a recent, and I think very to the point, summary when you look at covering all things digital (taking into account that Norway was much slower to adopt social media than e.g the US or UK):

"A short summary of web communication trends from #sw2011: Social media is soo 2009, apps soo 2010. 2011--> is mobile internet (+ html5)" (Hans Petter Fosseng summing up a web conference today)


The state of social media and personal recollection

Wow, this one hit me. Paul Carr's The Rise of Microblogging, The Death of Posterity is really thoughtprovoking, worth reading and reflecting on.

I found this post via a tweet from Loic LeMeur who said he totally disagrees, but even though I often find myself disagreeing with Carr I think what he says about microblogging vs blogs is mostly true. I use microblogging more for conversation and sharing and reading links than for broadcasting, but it is true that a lot of the things I'd formely blog about I've ended up just tweeting since I joined Twitter.

That means I have some of the same problems refinding stuff I've linked to as Carr, and it's very annoying as a major function of this blog is as a backup of my own brain. In Carr's words: "...the realisation is slightly terrifying: by constantly micro-broadcasting everything, we’ve ended up macro-remembering almost nothing."

Now, I don't have any plans to delete my social media profiles, but it's useful to be reminded of, and reflect a bit on, this paradox, and least I took a few minutes out to blog this...


Do you remember back when revealing an opinion could get you fired?

A decade or two from now I suspect people will look back with amusement and incredulity on how once upon a time revealing online that you had opinions or flaws could get you fired.

In a world where most everyone who is someone has said and done plenty of stupid things online, revealing their most awkward traits or most foolish decisions, it will be those who have no online history to speak of who will come across as suspicious.

While thinking about how social media has changed, some would say blurred, the lines between private and public, between work and play, for an op-ed published yesterday (in Norwegian) it struck me that what we're experiencing now is just growing pains, a temporary phase while we transition from old to new ways of thinking, or perhaps we could even speak of paradigms. And when I say temporary it may be that we're speaking of a generation or two, Roland Inglehart's Silent Revolution also springs to mind.

But already the two mindsets I'm thinking of, the old buttoned up professional aspiring to reveal as little as possible about him or herself, and the new, open culture of sharing, some would say oversharing, and transparency exist side by side.

As the op-ed was written just after the Octavia Nasr affair, I used hers and Dave Weigel's case to say that neither revealed something all that surprising: Nasr revealed she had sympathies and Weigel an arrogance which is far from uncommon among up and coming journalists who's had great success very quickly. In other words, they revealed themselves to be human. Their timing and sense of judgement may have been askew, but both explained the reasons for these lapses well, and the instant firing of the two seemed to me like knee-jerk reactions.

After I submitted my op-ed, I came across this brilliant piece by Thomas Friedman for New York Times (worth reading in full) on the Nasr-affair:

"What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints."

I agree with most of what Friedman has to say in this piece, except I don't believe the future belongs to those who leave no footprints - quite the contrary. Two other recent NYT-articles, both well worth the read, Bent Brantley's Whatever Happened to Mystery and Jeffrey Rosen on How the Web means the End of Forgetting, serve to illustrate how increasingly unrealistic leaving no footprints has become.

Friends and acquaintances who teach in junior and upper high school tell me that these days even some of their best and most ambitious students keep blogs where they frequently err on the side oversharing, divulging personal, sometimes very private, things which may come back to haunt them. But seeing how widespread this "oversharing" on blogs and social networks is, as more and more people steeped in this culture enter the job market and eventually gain power, I think this will soon start to be seen as quite normal.

That is not to say that I think we'll end up with an anything goes kind of mentality, or that good sense of judgement won't be recognised and awarded also in the future, but I think we'll learn to live with how much more of our personal histories are publicly available at the click of a button. And I do think the buttoned up journalist, clothed so as to reveal as little as possible of who he is, will come across as a stranger in a strange land in this type of environment. In fact, is already doing so when dealing with the social web and its inhabitants.

So I think we'll see the end of the cult of objectivity that media has worshipped for so long. That is not to say I think objectivity as such is unattainable, or that striving for impartiality necessarily is a bad thing, only that the idea that a journalist should be like a mirror, an inanimate object with no opinions or personal history, reflecting his or her surroundings objectively, is long overdue for a reality-check.

Journalists are not inanimate objects, we're human beings who, under constant deadline pressure, make, and are required by our employers to make, decisions about what to cover and not, and how to cover it, all the time based on editorial values - or sometimes on which glasses we see the world through. The only way we could just objectively mirror the world around us would be to set up a surveillance camera and stream the video from it online, and even then we would only be streaming a (geographical) selection of reality.

I'm not even so sure this whole idea of just mirroring the world is conducive from a journalistic point of view. Reuter's David Schlesinger has talked about how (financial) journalism at its best should be as a mirror (scroll down for English version). However, I think it's fair to say that as long as that mirror only was turned towards a bunch of experts who mostly said the same, there's no wonder financial journalists couldn't see the financial crisis of 2008 coming. Schlesinger called it unreasonable to expect journalists to predict the future, but I think, in this increasingly complex world of ours, spotting the connections and making sense of the world, is one of the most important ways the media can add value.

Also, the people we are supposed to serve, our readers, do not see us as objective or think we have no political or business ties. They're just not quite sure what those biases which they feel must be dictating the news agenda are, so we often find ourselves accused of being racists and cultural relativists, or socialists and conservatives in the comment section of the same article.

Even more frequently, commenters don't even see us as persons at all, but synonymous with the institution we represent, and will attack us in the comment sections based on this. Incidentally, that is often a rather difficult position from which to nurture a constructive and healthy online debate.

If we then compare and contrast the media's "objective approach to covering an issue to that of bloggers, we see something really interesting. Namely, that looking at successful niche or issue bloggers – such as e.g. Jeff Jarvis, Guido Fawkes, Karl Denninger, Mark Horvath – they gain credibility and influence by doing the exact opposite of what media always has held up as the key hallmark of credibility.

They gain credibility not by pretending they have no ties, as the media, but disclosing those ties openly; not by pretending they have no personal history, but by using their own personal histories in ways which make other people share their own stories - thereby creating a critical mass highlighting a particular issue.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that I think it's about time the media industry wake up to the fact that we live in a transparent society, and that insisting on staying fully dressed and buttoned up in this environment won't do us any favours.

I agree with David Weinberger that yes, transparency is the new objectivity – at least in the respect that transparency is the only way to make our journalism more credible in today's increasingly transparent society. That does not mean that, as was suggested on Twitter, I think media organisations have to become more like Fox News. I don't think journalism necessarily needs to become more opinionated – opinionated journalism has pros and cons depending on the editorial format – but it desperately needs to become more honest.

For the record I should perhaps say that I ruined my back on the way home from London late June and ended up confined to bed for a few weeks, which gave me a lot of time to think about the changing media landscape. I'm somewhat shocked at the verbosity of this post, but suspect I might be back with more on this and other related topics soon....


Cats, blogs and the internet

Although it is a well known that the internet is ruled by cats, cat blogging is not quite my thing. For one, I'm more partial to dogs, not at least because I owe my life to one, and knowing myself I find it very ulikely that this blog will not be remain dedicated to the fascinating and ever changing media landscape for the forseeable future.

However, I thought this video on how the internet is made of cats (hat tip: Adriana) at least might offer me an excuse to say a word or two about what I've been up to lateley - namely cat sitting for @pusedyr who at times has been known to usurp control over one of Norway's most popular political blogs, the one normally written by @vampus (aka Heidi). It must be said that this guy, who's been blogging on multiple blogs and is, by some standards, an old-timer on Twitter, is no stranger to the power of the internet, but, as he is quite a political animal, I'm reliably informed he probably won't be tweeting much again until the next election.

As for the two of us, since I injured my back on my way back from England late June, it's not so much the case that I've been looking after him for two weeks as he's been looking after me by making sure I'd get out of bed at regular intervals to feed him. Now that I think I've finally recovered I guess I owe him a thanks of sorts... having said that, I'm also looking forward to a night of uninterrupted sleep come Friday...(see more pics on Flickr):

  AsksSofa
 
Oh, and while we're on the issue of cats and uninterrupted sleep, @pusedyr is a very lenient taskmaster compared to my late housemate Casanova, also known as "the centre of the world"owned by another Heidi(picture courtesy of Lene):

  Casanova
  


Why I still blog

Is blogging dead? I seem to recall that discussion surfacing every so often since Twitter really took off.

Last week The Economist published an article on the evolving blogosphere, the vast field of dead blogs and slower growth of of blogs - which spurred a very interesting discussion over at Eirik Newth's blog (in Norwegian) when he blogged his thoughts on it.

For my own part I am very aware that I've been blogging less here in recent times, which is due to me also runnning the blog of the Norwegian Online News Association and long work days writing for money.

But I keep promising myself to find more time to blog because I still find it invaluable for a number of reasons. Therefore I was delighted to see Hans Kullin of the excellent Media Culpa put word to some of the reasons he still blogs in an interview with John Cass:

"it is a way to push myself to think deeper about a subject and to learn more. When you are forced to articulate your own opinion about a topic, you do more research and it seems to stick better in your memory. Then there is the social aspect. By writing a blog, I engage in a conversation with smart people and that is always a lot of fun. It is also a great way to build a good network. But perhaps most of all, my blogging has always been fueled by the reactions from other people, who link to or comment about my content. The more (positive) reactions you get, the more fun it is to blog. And that’s where I have a real problem to motivate myself to blog these days. It seems that many people don’t have as much time to blog today as they used to, before Facebook and Twitter grew popular."

I agree with most of that, but am also reminded on a short post I wrote a few years back which I feel still holds true. Two key thoughts from that: 1) don't see you blog as a finished package but use it as a backup brain, as public notebook, 2) treat it as part of what you're doing, as one method to achieve what you're doing, not as taking time away from journalism but as another way of doing journalism. I can say a lot on the latter point but no time right now, so do check out the full post(s) (and I do hope the links still work)


Social media start-ups as agents for social change

What are the best ways to use social media to change the world, and could there possibly be a business model in doing just that?

I recently had the pleasure of being in the jury when participants of the Swedish Institute’s Young Leaders Visitors Program (#YLVP 2010) presented projects aimed at meeting global challenges - such as cultural prejudices, censorship and lack of democracy - through social media solutions.

The projects ranged from creating a social media academy for activists, to using various social media platforms to find, collect and present artists from a specific region to counter cultural prejudices (the #YLPV participants came from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank-Gaza, Yemen and Sweden).

All the projects were presented with great zest and flair, and even thought most of them were perhaps a bit too ambitious, a bit too complicated – I think the beauty with social media, and what make these tools so effective, is the how they enable you to start small with a shoestring, or even non-existent budget – the event was a great reminder for me as well of how powerful an agent of change social media has the potential to be.

One of the other judges, Mikael Ahlström of Sprout Park, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur in digital media, also told me he would consider investing in some of the projects presented – which I took to mean that he saw business potential there.

Another thing I was reminded of during the event was an interview I did with Fareena Alam in 2003 when she was editor of the now defunct Q magazine. She said part of the problem with the way media represents Muslims is how they’re always interviewed in connection with issues such as Islam, immigration or cultural integration and rarely presented as normal people with ”normal” problems such as housing or transportation.

I don’t have the interview before me now, so I don’t remember her exact words, but this, the way immigrants or ethnic groups are presented in mainstream media was also an issue which at least one project was aimed at improving. I think social media can be a great tool in this respect, as it’s a great arena for building an online identity on your own terms. There are of course lots of challenges as well: access to and knowledge of these tools are in no way universal, but through them more people than ever have access to the equivalent of their own printing presses, and it’s interesting to see how this e.g. can be put to use to improve democracy in various parts of the world.

But I must admit I’m not so sure this will be a mass endeavour. Even though I recently read that Facebook users outnumber newspaper readers in The Middle East and North Africa – perhaps not surprising when you consider all the restrictions on free press in the region – I think we’ll probably see the 90-9-1 law played out here as well.

Incidentally, I happened to spend my last school year before university attending an experimental college with "complete student democracy" (a coincidence, sort of). The college was started by students in 1967 and was, at least in theory, run by the members of the school: all students and teachers had one vote each.

A lot can be said, both good and bad, about that experience, but even in this sort of setting – at a school (in)famous for the democratic way it was organised – it was at best no more than 10 per cent who actively played a role in this "democracy" other than at times, and often reluctantly, turning up to vote.

That, of course, is not to say that the work of individuals or small groups of dedicated souls can not make a huge differences, quite the contrary, and social media can make, and in some areas is making, it easier to organise those scattered groups and indviduals and rally people behind a cause.

I also gave the keynote presentation at the event, and will return to that soon, but the day gave me so much to think about, also in terms of the shortcomings of, and possible fixes for, journalism, that, given a very busy schedule, it's taken me some time to start blogging about it all. 


Ericsson employee set up his own "Hitchhiker's Central" on Facebook

This is pretty nifty: Paul Mathews, an Ericsson employee, was able to use a communication platform at the Swedish firm to enable those stranded without access to the internet to use their phones to post questions and messages to a Facebook page he'd set up to help passengers caught up in the recent flight chaos.

The text messages cost the usual rate but the user is kept up to date with replies for free thanks to the system. "The initiative is not connected to my employment but I am able to deploy the same technology that we export for external developers," he told The Local.

Mathews and his wife Helani manage the site, first set up when some US colleagues were left marooned in the Swedish capital amid the ongoing flight chaos, but he underlined that it is the users, now numbering more than 120, who keep it moving and make it it useful. Full story over at The Local.

I started writing about this issue due to my own experiences using VG.no's Hitchhiker's Central (Haikesentralen), but it's a fascinating topic. Not only because of my interest in editorial development and previous experiences from travel PR, but I really think this scenario reveals how powerful communication tools the internet offers and how out of touch too many institutions and companies are with this new communication landscape we live in.

It's not all that new of course, but the future has always been unevenly distributed and the volcano flight chaos, and subsequent transport crisis, just shows us to which extent this is the case.

In my last media report (link in Norwegian) I wrote that "If there is one arena custom-made to think big and fast at the same time, it's social media. The challenge here is that social media to a large extent is comprised of small niches and networks which could do with someone or something to connect it all together. A connection point is exactly what VG's Hitchiker Central has provided in the wake of the current transportation meltdown. But the tools to do this are so easy to use and readily available that it is far from given that this a role media will be able to occupy forever".

Mathews nifty "Stranded in Europe" Facebook page, and accompanying blog is one example of people taking matters into their own hands, and I'm sure there are plenty other, simliar examples to be found. In fact, here's another one, and I'm sure I could find other such initiatives if I did a bit of googling...


"Is your blog really a blog if it has no photos of shoes on it?"

The headline quote belongs to Ida Jackson, aka Virrvarr, who told Oslo’s first Twestival last fall that this is a question she’s often met with when she talks to senior high school students in Norway about blogging.

Whereas, at least according to the last blog rankings I’ve seen, the most read UK blogs are political blogs (please correct me if I’m wrong here), in Scandinavia, the most read blogs, by far, are "glamour blogs". Mostly written by girls in their late teens and early twenties, these blogs all have a diary-like form with lots of photos – especially of shoes, make-up, clothes, accessories and/or the blogger trying out new shoes, clothes, make-up and hairstyles.

Among Norwegian teenagers this photo-based blog style is so pervasive that it is the text-based blogs that come across as weird, unusual and simply not adhering to common blogging practice.

BridalShoes

Even among text-based blogs, I’ve seen the conception of what blogging is change with new ”generations” taking to blogging, so here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

I’m fascinated by how the blogosphere grows and evolves and how new voices emerge and then establish themselves as thought leaders or trendsetters to new generations of bloggers. While thinking about how the blogosphere has evolved and is evolving, I’ve come to think that it makes sense to talk about generations of bloggers, as different generations often have different ideals, myths, heroes, ideas of what value blogging has.

These values are often summed up in who they see as thought leaders or trendsetters: who are the bloggers they look up to and are inspired by, who are they trying to emulate, who do they consider their peers, who do they hang out with. For the sake of clarity: I’m not saying that you should try to emulate other bloggers, but in some parts of the blogosphere it’s an accurate description of what’s going on.

For my own part, I discovered blogging in 2002 via friends who were early, and passionate bloggers. That discovery got me reading blogs and even books about blogging, but, blaming my deadlines and general lack of time, I didn’t start blogging myself until a friend set up a blog for me in September 2005, and it took me until January 2006 to really get going (my loss).

The bloggers I really admire are folks like Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Confused of Calcutta, Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis - all thinking bloggers with a knack for making complex ideas sound simple, for capturing the zeitgeist in powerful and sometimes though-provoking metaphors. Not that I always agree with what they say, but I’m a big fan of the ease with which they discuss sometimes complex trends, ideas and technology and how reading them often gives me plenty of food for thought.

My friend Adriana, who kicked me into the blogosphere in the first place, can also be trusted to always give me something to chew on when she finds time to blog. But the bloggers I read most frequently are those who blog about the issues closest to my own field of interest, such as Kevin and Suw, Adam Tinworth, Robin Hamman, Paul Bradshaw, Richard Sambrook, Martin Stabe, Alan Mutter, Robert Picard, Hans Kullin, Undercurrent, Roy Greenslade, Joanna Geary etc.

The great thing is that there is also a steady new inflow of bloggers writing well on editorial development, on media economy, on the intersection between journalism and social media, on free speech etc. – and I do of course read and find pleasure in lots of other blogs as well - including scores of Norwegian blogs and some Swedish, Danish, German and… oh well, blogs from many parts of the world. But my references are very far from everyone’s references.

To some it’s Seth Godin , Brian Solis, Chris Brogan and other leading bloggers they look to, but often those who started blogging in 2009 will refer to blogs who emerged in 2008 or 2007, fashion blogs will have a whole different set of references, as will of course political bloggers.

I’ve always thought age is a state of mind, and with bloggers I think who they identify with, who they hang out with online, and what they’re trying to achieve is more indicative of what ”generation of bloggers” they belong to than the age of the blog or blogger. Among other things, this leads to the very obvious conclusion that how you measure if a blog is successful depends on what you set out to achieve – for instance, I would have thought I’d done something seriously wrong if I had been invited to a glam party on the basis of my blog, though to a glam blogger it would understandably be very gratifying – but there’s something much more important at work here.

What will blogging be in the future? A blog is of course only a platform, but in the part of the blogosphere I grew up there are strong implicit ethical guidelines, very clear ideas about what blogging is and isn’t, what good blogging is and isn’t.

Where do these ideas stem from? I found myself at loss when I tried to pinpoint it (in Norwegian). I could think of books and bloggers and discussions that helped shape my own ideas about this, but no one source. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around teaching good and/or effective blogging strategies, around advising companies on social media strategy and issues, but as new practitioners enter the arena they also bring their own, or their thought leaders’, ideas to bear on what social media and blogging is.

My point? Only that blogging, and the conception of what it is, is changing and I’m trying to find a good vocabulary to describe that change while also being fascinated by what shapes the change; what effect it has now and will have long term. What is your take on all this? Who are your thought leaders? What are your daily fixes? I’d be grateful for any input as these are questions I’ve found myself thinking a lot about recently.

More links to follow


Social media in enterprises: the elephant in the ecosystem

This was a social media event I would have just loved to attend, but unfortunately found myself unable to - tied up with business in the wrong city, wrong country even, when it took place. Luckily, Dave Terrar blogged about the evening and summed up the different presentations - excellent lineup (part I and part II). Adriana's talk (below) offers lots of food for thought as usual.

Notes from the changing media landscape

On Metro, Foursquare, the future of freesheets, Facebook-journalism and creative disruption.

Okay, so the headline of this post is pretty much the subtitle of this blog, but I often come across posts on interesting developments that I have limited time to blog about and know I easily will forget if I just tweet about them or save them to Delicious (I'm on Publish2 too, but Delicious is where most of my peers are, and old habits die hard). Also, I don't want to turn this blog into just a collection of links, but it's much easier to refind and return to stuff I mention here than on Delicious. In fact, one aspect I find very useful about blogging is, as I've previously described, that it works almost as a backup of my brain. So here's a few of the many interesting blog posts I've been thinking about recently.

Metro + Foursquare: following Monday's announcement of the new partnership between Metro Canada and the location-based social network Foursquare, the two most interesting posts that flashed past me was ReadWriteWeb's The Era of Location-as-Platform Has Arrived and Mark Briggs' A Foursquare First: teaming with a news org. In the latter post, both the suggestion on how open APIs eventually will take over and the one on how mobile news services will become location specific make sense to me. See also: Foursquare for local business marketing (latter link added 12:18 CET)

Free dailies 2010: the age of the happy monopolist: "Free newspapers were one of the big stories of the noughties, and came to symbolise the primacy of ‘free’ and the imminent demise of paid-for papers." Interesting analysis from Piet Bakker, who charts the rise and fall of freesheets and outlines what conditions they thrive in.

Creative Disruption: What could Kodak have done differently? (via Adam's blog): there are, as Adam mentions, many lessons for newspaper publishers here - even in 2010.

Dan Blank: How I used Facebook to unearth a town's history (via Adam on Twitter): For short, I referred to this as Facebook-journalism in the intro, but that is probably not quite accurate. Still, what kept playing in my mind when I read this amazing story was how we could use similar techniques to create better crowd-sourced hyperlocal journalism.

When I mention hyperlocal journalism though, I also think of how I recently saw hyperlocal journalism defined as "what we did when we actually had time to go out and talk to people in our communities (or something similar, I can't remember where I read it just now).

Just looking at my own family history, the local stories I've learned about through talking to random people I've met - especially when just after I graduated I spent a few months working in a pub - I know there are so many amazing stories that go unreported and that many people are very curious, passionate and interested in local history, which Dan Blank's experiences really show. In this own words:

"I want to share a story about how Facebook is allowing me to experience my past in new and incredible ways. Here is the premise:

  • I drove through my hometown (Howell, New Jersey) snapping pictures of every store, house, and landmark I could on the main road.
  • I uploaded 165 photos to Facebook, and shared it for anyone to see. 
  • So far, these photos have received more than 700 comments, adding stories, context, history and reactions. A variety of generations responded, some who remembered it in the 1950s and 1960s.

"What makes this remarkable is that I grew up in a faceless American suburb - full of cheap strip malls and tract housing. Almost everyone was a transplant from somewhere else, with waves of people settling there from New York, including my parents who moved from Queens... (do check out full post here)"


Do we need rules for journalists’ use of social media?

Are you a journalist 24/7? Does the company you work for own you? Does it harm your credibility as a journalist if you share personal opinions online? Are some opinions more appropriate to share than others?

These are just some of many questions raised by the recent debates on journalists and social media. Some companies, such as Bloomberg, have very strict policies on how journalists may or may not use social media, but in Norway such rules have been absent until now.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that several of the country’s biggest media organisations are working on social media rules for their journalists, which caused The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA), an organisation I’m heading, to host a debate on this last week.

The reason? We thought it was much better to get such a debate out in the open than have it confined by the walls of each individual media company. If Norwegian is not Greek to you, you’ll find video and notes from the debate over at NONA’s blog, but as these are questions many media organisations are discussing these days, I’ve also translated some key quotes and questions here:

"The home alone party is over"
'The home alone party is over, now the adults are back and they want rules,' said Jan Omdahl, internet and technology commentator for Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet. He said Dagbladet’s journalists had been playing around with social media from an early stage, but now the media executives had entered the arena, demanding rules.

'It’s very typical that those who don’t use social media, or have started using it very recently, want rules, whereas those who have used social media a lot take the contrary view,' said Nina Nordbö, a social media advisor at Norway’s public broadcaster (NRK) and NONA board member.

'It is perhaps our smallest problem that we lack rules for social media. At the same time one of our biggest problems is that we are part of a tradition for one-way communication that makes us ill-equipped for exploiting the social web,' said Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of VG.no and NONA board member.

Grey areas
He felt it as important that we learned how to utilise this arena, and make our mistakes now rather than later. He also emphasised that VG.no had strict rules on ethics and he couldn’t see that they needed any more rules than these.

However, Omdahl also pointed out that journalists encounter a whole new set of challenges online. ’Even if I as a social media user think we can just continue as we always have done, I do see that we can benefit from raising awareness about these challenges. For instance: should I reply when I get questions on Twitter about why Dagbladet has used five different angles on that sex podcast on NRK.no? Should I confer with my bosses before I reply? Is it appropriate that I share my opinions on one of our most heavily criticised front pages?'

Guidelines or rules
Hanne Kirkenes from ABCNyheter.no pointed out that in their organisation it was not the editors but the journalists who had asked for rules.

'In my experience, our journalists are divided: those who take to social media very naturally and those who think journalists should not be using social media at all,' she said, explaining that as a result of this they had a few simple guidelines on social media. They also had held internal discussions on this and would continue to do so.

John Einar Sandvand, a digital strategist with Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, explained that his company was in the process of implementing rules for how their journalists use social media, but suggested three very simple ones:

'For social media I would start with three very basic principles, and then one can elaborate on each of these according to specific issues:

1) The media company should be genuinely positive to its staff being active in social media

2) Social media activities must be done in a way which maintains the professional integrity of journalists

3) Stay loyal to your employer

You can read more about his thoughts on this on his excellent blog Beta Tales (in English).

Impartiality, sources and PR
We touched on several other issues which tend to come up in one form or another whenever journalists' use of social media is up for discussion, hence I'll just mention three of these briefly here: 

Impartiality: Can a blogger with a strong political agenda or view on a particular issue work as a journalist? Or would it be more useful to ask if a journalist or commentator can do more credible journalism when we know his our her agenda? Espen Egil Hansen suggested that bloggers were blurring the lines between reporting and commenting, that commentators like Omdahl could still do credible journalism and that we in the future would see more journalists becoming individual brands .

Consensus: Is it a problem that journalists and commentators mostly just talk to their peers online, and does this not exacerbate media's herdlike behaviour? A Norwegian editor recently argued this was the case, that discussing their ideas on Twitter created a consensus among the country's commentators, and therefore we need rules to regulate media's use of social media. To this it was pointed out that hacks and columnists have always associated mostly with other media folks, but that at least on Twitter they do so openly and not behind closed doors in the press club - and on Twitter they also have (an opportunity) to engage with their readers and can make an effort to expand the network of people they talk and listen to.        

PR: Oh, and somebody asked if it wasn't problematic that marketeers and academics could get to know a journalist's interests so well on Twitter that they would know exactly which journalist to pitch a certain issue to. My answer? No, no, no: I would LOVE more targeted pitches, if all PRs and marketeers would make the effort to figure out what my beat is and what issues I'm likely to write about I would be absolutely delighted....

Update 23/11-09, 21:59 CET: see also Think Before You Re-Tweet: L.A. Times' Updates Social Media Rules for Journos.

Twitter mishaps and netiquette for journalists

Evidence suggests navigating the social web can be a bit of challenge for journalists, but does that mean we need a new set of ethical guidelines to safeguard their conduct?

Last week, while organising a debate on whether we need rules for journalists’ use of social media, I asked friends, colleagues and Twitter-followers for examples of journalists’ missteps and transgressions on the popular micro blogging site. My question threw up some interesting examples, and I’ll highlight some of those here.

Digital Doorstepping
But first I feel I should point out that, even though Twittiquette is the hot topic these days, it would be wrong to single out Twitter: these examples are very similar to journalists’ "missteps and transgressions" on other social media sites such as blogs and social networks.

For instance, only two years ago we had a similar discussion after bloggers and others reacted sharply to how some journalists solicited comments from bloggers who themselves experienced, or had friends who were caught up in, the Virginia Tech Massacre – leaving blog comments like "I would love to chat with you about this horrific event."

"Journalism has a long and dishonourable tradition of doorstepping the victims of tragedies. But in the digital age, the communities around the victims have voices to express their outrage at the media's behaviour - and that's what we're seeing here," said Adam Tinworth in a blog post.

Bullying your sources
Now, I’m not so sure it would not be entirely far-fetched to say that journalist have a long dishonourable tradition for bullying their sources either. However, it does look rather embarrassing when the bullying is conducted in a public place like Twitter, such as in this exchange between former National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunsford earlier this year.

After Dunsford tweeted an observation from being interviewed by George-Cosh, leaving his name out of it, he identified himself when he answered back with some very aggressive tweets. You can read the whole exchange here. Ouch. There are of course situations where journalists feel bullying, e.g. politicians, is entirely legitimate, even create TV-shows devoted to it, but here?

Twitter reveals journalists have opinions
An entirely different kind of example is that of Odd Myklebust, society editor for Norwegian regional newspaper Drammens Tidenede, who, two weeks before this year’s Norwegian parliamentary election, tweeted that this year’s regional political candidates were the worst ever. This created an outcry and spurred a debate on journalists and social media, and Myklebust later apologised saying the statement was too tabloid.

This incident reminds me of the Washington Post’s new, much ridiculed social media policy which came about after one of its managing editors, Raju Narisetti posted a few tweets that revealed he had opinions on issues such as health care, deficits and term limits. Impartiality is crucial to the WaPo policy, and Techchrunch has a ball with it in Twitter Unearths A Secret: Journalists Have Opinions:

"When word leaked out that he had his own opinions and was sharing them on Twitter, apparently the WaPo top brass scrambled quickly to get this under control. That included Narisetti deleting his Twitter account. Pathetic."

On the Norwegian incident, Per Valebrokk, editor-in-chief of business news site E24, wrote: "If Myklebust really means what he said on Twitter, why doesn’t he write it in his newspaper? What is really the biggest problem? That those working in the media have opinions, or that they’re not clear enough in their newspapers?"

Now, I can’t get myself worked up over these incidents revealing journalists to have opinions, but I should also, for the record, mention, that I know Myklebust from my time as a columnist at Drammens Tidende (where I effectively started my media career).

Making offensive remarks, then deleting them
I think a worse case is that of The Daily Telegraph’s former technology blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. I remember reacting to the tone of several of his tweets when I followed him on Twitter, but one incident in particular was later brought to my attention by someone who followed the situation more closely.

"Back when he was @yiannopoulos rather than @nero, Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted that he hoped the police 'beat the shit out of those wankers', referring to the G20 protestors. Then he deleted the tweets when one was killed," this person said, and described how @yiannopoulos also made aggressive remarks to some tweeters and deleted the tweets once they had been seen - adding that unpleasantness seemed not to upset people so much as deleting your remarks once they had caused a stir.

What a lot of this comes down to, especially Yiannopoulos’ and George-Cosh’s cases, is bad editorial judgements. If editors see one of their reporters or commentators make such ill-informed judgements repeatedly online, I imagine they would question how well this person is suited to represent the media company and at the very least have serious talk with the person in question. Also, we can all make gaffes, say things that are not well thought through, but most people recognise this - and apologising for it makes all the difference.

Personally, I don’t think a whole new set of rules is called for, but I organised a debate on this issue last week for The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) as it had been brought to my attention that rules are under way in Norway’s biggest media organisations. It proved a very constructive and useful debate, and I’ll get back to some of the key points raised in a separate post.

Essential Advice
Still, this debate reminds me of something I copied from my friend Adriana’s blog several years ago, in 2006 I believe, and have often used when explaining netiquette to various audiences:

"On the internet you are not an institution. If you want to be and behave like one, you get isolated and bypassed... It's back to communication between human beings, communities and sometimes mobs. The rules of social interactions apply - if people challenge you on something you have done or said and you don't respond, expect a commensurate impact on your reputation or credibility.

"If people make fun of you or try to embarrass you, the choice is to remain silent in hope of appearing dignified or to shoot back, with indignation or with humour. It depends. Different responses will be appropriate at different times and different circumstances. That is why etiquette is so complicated. Media and communications strategies don't even come close. The main difference is that you don't need to be 'trained' for online communication; it's the one that you already know. And whether you are good at it or not has nothing to do with communication skills but with respect for others and some good manners."

This post has been edited following Milo Yiannopoulos' objections in the comments.

Shield law lunacy

In a world where journalism is in the danger of turning into a hobby, isn't it ironic that the US looks set to get a shield law that excludes non-salaried journalists from protection?

I've been following the slow progress of this potential new law for some time now, and I'm struck by how at odds its definition of who should be allowed to protect their sources is with the changing media landscape. I've previously bemoaned that it will offer no protection for the Dr Stockmanns of this world, but with the very nature of journalism and who committs valuable acts of journalism so much in flux, limiting the scope of this law to only protect salaried journalists seems very strange.

For one, bloggers, and outfits like Huffington Post, are increasingly providing valuable journalism, analysis and even investigations. Come to think of it, that has already been the case for years now, and I recently concluded in an article on blogging the crash (for a new book on the financial crash and the crisis in journalism) that some bloggers even covered the events leading up to the credit crisis better than traditional media.

This blog post over at Mediashift provides a good argument for why bloggers and citizen journalists deserve a shield law. But with the gloomy state of media finances these days, some are even predicting a future where (freelance) journalists will be forced to work for free. I'm not quite that pessimistic, but there is an uncomfortable grain of thruth or two in Charlie Beckett's post on Celibates, Priests or Toffs? The Future of Freelance.