Warner Music exec creates firestorm by suggesting tweep steal music and download it to his "brat blog"
Who's robbing us now, Mr Montgomery?

Using social media to change the world

Here's something which, despite all the current doom and gloom, makes me both hopeful for the future of the world at large and despondent about my own industry (and if you'd rather focus on the former, feel free to jump past my chronology of frustration:-) )

A chronology of frustration:
Mainstream media discovers Twitter and moves en masse there. Incidentally, politicians discover Twitter about the same time and follow suite. "All of a sudden" everyone that is someone is talking about Twitter, hence media commentators are ordered to write about it and conclude - surprise, surprise - it's the social network of the elites.

Now, this secenario is taken from Norway, where journalists and politicians have really only discovered Twitter's potential over the last few months. Since I do my share of talking about why journalists should be on Twitter, and how they can use it in their work, I'm hardly going to complain that a much larger contingent of Norway's hacks have finally started using the microblogging site, but the scenario in the above paragraph is a potent reminder that our understanding of social media is defined by how we use it.

It's not the technology... As a result, our arguments about what social media is often become circular, and categorisations such as "it's the network of the elites" or "it's just people sharing trivia" will often reveal more about how people making those statements use or don't use Twitter than about the site itself. I am, of course, fully aware that sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, but, at the end of the day, it's neither the technology, nor the individual social media brand as such I find interesting: it's what it enables us to do.

And since commentators, in Norway and elsewhere, have been so busy analysing what they and/or their colleagues talk about on Twitter lately, let's instead look at a compelling way to use the site to raise awareness of a social issue. I've been followingMark Horvath for a few weeks now, after a shout out from Tim O'Reilly alerted me to his Twitter profile:

Giving a voice to the voiceless
"Mark Horvath was a top TV executive in Hollywood and then lost it all. Out of work and with a home going into foreclosure, Horvath quickly became homeless. With no income or a roof over his head, Horvath still had to do something. So he started Invisiblepeople.tv, a personal first account video blog designed to give homelessness a face and voice," Mashable wrote in March.

Or to use his own words from 1 April this year: "Fifteen years ago I was a TV executive. Fourteen years ago I ended up homeless on Hollywood Blvd. I now am 14 years sober and am rebuilding my life but homelessness is once again a very real possibility. I lost my job in St Louis over a year ago. I took a job here in Los Angeles, moved here, and was laid off. I lost my house to foreclosure last week. With $45, a small camera and a laptop I started Invisiblepeople.tv, a homeless awareness vlog. I had to do something.

"Every week I take a few minutes to get to know a different person without a home. I learn how they survive, how they came to find themselves homeless, and who they call friends. I ask them about their biggest wishes, their greatest hardships and their plans for the future.

"Then, I introduce them to the world via social media. My video blog is a testament of the character and strength of people living on America’s streets. It gives them a voice and a chance to tell their story and become more than a coat sleeping on a park bench. To get the word out about my vblog, I began using twitter ..." (full post here, follow Horvath at @hardlynormal ).

Now, you may fault me, of course, for citing a former TV exec as an example, but his forceful example of being 'the change he wants to see in the world' somehow gives me more faith that we will find our way through the current crisis - and doing what he does while facing homelessness and personal ruin is truly something...

Here's video clip from The Berkman Centre, about The New Change Makers which is also well-worth checking out (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter)


The best political Tweeter in Australia is South Australian Premier Mike Rann @PremierMikeRann

I actually think he writes it himself, whereas most others are probably done by staff or media releases from RSS feeds.

Our national broadsheet, The Australian, published this extraordinary editorial this week: http://cli.gs/qpDV7Z

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Thanks for alerting me to this, Michael. It's actually quite useful for one of the things I'm working on at the moment. In short I think it's well-written and poorly argued.

Ironic, isn't it, that I have a stronger sense of being part on of a community (or more) on Twitter than with my local newspaper? For my part, Twitter has a lot more relevant content to offer than my local paper;-) Yes, there are worrying aspects to Twitter and what I believe we now are supposed to call H1H5. For one, it reveals the dangers of the lack of context the microblogging site allows so little room for - but I don't buy into the analogies in this editorial.

Twitter is what you make it in many respects, and a recent adhoc survey I've been reading this weekend shows journalists and editors use Twitter in a very different manner to what described here. For us it really has become a useful work tool, and it can also be useful in helping to build that community so key for newspapers.

I do of course agree with the part of the conclusion on how community is key (but not necessarily that people will pay to belong to it, and I think online is better than paper for building it), but, well, guess my head's just too full of other things right now to start dissecting the (lack of) logic here:-)

You've seen the posts critisising the figures on Twitter's retention rate, suggesting it's partly down to Twitter clients? I can understand that many people don't find use for Twitter and don't see the point even after trying it out for a while though. If it's not relevant to your work or interests, if the community you want to talk to is not there, it makes sense - but for me it's invaluable. Will check out Mike Rann.

Well written, but flawed logic seems to sum up The Australian's editorial. Twitter was a strange topic for a national newspaper to address in this form.

The writer undermines his own product by talking about communities and referring to a one-city paper.

What community does a national broadsheet have? Can the academic and political elite be described as a "community"?

Twitter is like a newspaper in the sense that you can take it or leave it depending on how relevant you think it is.

Twitter can afford to have users drop off; newspaper's can't.

On the homlessness side, did you catch Ed Mitchell's not disimilar story? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7144467.stm Alochol, debt and pride played their part in making a newsreader homeless. But no web upside.

Anyway, I like the idea that Horvath's an outlier. I can lay hands on people who've helped set up—and now run—a half-way house for the homeless; but they don't have websites or blogs or the skills to instantiate either. A little news dribbles into the papers whenever there's a sponsored sleepout or a protest by the neighbours. But it is quite hard to follow. (And the voice of experience says you can't foist the technology on these people...) So as the technology suffuses through our society, and people skilled in using it retire into these charity roles, then maybe we'll get more of this. And maybe that *will* reinvigorate the community, healing wounds inflicted on society by the industrial revolution (aswell as inflicting a bunch of different ones... ;-)

PS: There really should be a techo-journalism blog calls and "Hacks & Hackers".

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