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From: Sam Citron4/23/2009 11:49:43 AM
   of 40
 
DeWolfe to step down as MySpace chief [FT]
By Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles
Published: April 23 2009 01:25 | Last updated: April 23 2009 01:25

Chris DeWolfe, one of the co-founders of MySpace, is to step down as chief executive of the popular social networking site just weeks after telling the Financial Times that he was “very happy” with the company.

His departure as chief executive follows the recent appointment of Jonathan Miller, the former chief executive of AOL, as head of digital operations at News Corporation.

News Corp said Mr DeWolfe would not be renewing his contract, which is up for renewal in October, and would be “stepping down in the near future”.

The contract of Tom Anderson, MySpace’s president, who co-founded the company with Mr DeWolfe, is also up for renewal in October. However, Mr Miller said he was in discussions with Mr Anderson about a new role.

It is unclear why the two MySpace founders are moving on. However, they are among the best paid employees at News Corp with hefty contracts worth an estimated $15m a year each. With advertising revenues at the company hit by the economic slump it was unlikely they would have been offered contracts of comparable value.

At the end of February the FT learned that the two would not be renewing their contacts. However, Mr DeWolfe insisted in an interview that he and Mr Anderson had no such plans.

“We love the people, the product, and we believe in the future of the company,” he said at the time. “We are not thinking of leaving…our heads are down and completely focused on building a profitable, scalable business.”

As he announced his departure – and apparent change of heart – on Wednesday, Mr DeWolfe said working at MySpace had been “one of the best experiences of my life”. News Corp said he would continue to be a “strategic adviser” to the company.

News Corp acquired MySpace for $580m in 2005. The site enjoyed meteoric growth but has faced growing competition from rival Facebook, which recently passed the 200m user mark.

MySpace failed to meet a $1bn revenue target last year and while revenues were up in the first half of the company’s current fiscal year growth has stalled since the onset of the recession.

Rupert Murdoch, News Corp’s chairman, moved to address growth in the company’s digital operations when he hired Mr Miller at the beginning of the month. The appointment came amid a broader reshuffling of News Corp’s top team, which was triggered by the announcement that Peter Chernin, Mr Murdoch’s long-time second in command, was to leave the group.

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From: Sam Citron4/23/2009 11:49:45 AM
   of 40
 
Facebook lures 200m with poker and pets [FT]
By Chris Nuttall in San Francisco
Published: April 5 2009 23:20 | Last updated: April 5 2009 23:20

Spectacular growth in online social gaming is prompting companies such as Google to enter the market and developers to rethink how they design video games.

The trend is seeing the social network Facebook emerge as the world’s biggest gaming platform. It is closing on 200m active members and its most popular application installed by users is a game - Texas Hold ’em poker - played by 11m people.

Pet Society, where players create pets and their homes and exercise and care for them with friends, is even more popular on a daily basis. It has 9m players, with more than 60 per cent of them returning every day to look after their creatures.

The leading publishers on Facebook are San Francisco’s Zynga and London-based Playfish, which developed Pet Society and has grown the audience for its games stable from zero to 60m players over the past 18 months.


Kristian Segerstråle, chief executive of Playfish, says social gaming is more like the social interactions around kicking a ball in a park than the experience of a traditional console video game.

”The emotional driver for you to play is not the kind of fight or flight emotions which tend to happen between you and the screen on consoles, but the much more powerful emotions of you and your real-world friends,” Mr Segerstråle says.

”It can be competition, cooperation, expression, communication, just like in real-world games.”

Social gaming was a hot topic at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

”The biggest shift is that, in the past, most of the social gaming has been with people that you don’t know, with Facebook that’s completely changed,” said Brian Fargo, a game developer.

He described a bowling game on Facebook where he can see all of his friends and their high scores.

”I want to play now because I want to beat them. The social dynamic of knowing the people out there really changes things for me,” he said.

”So you’re saying that we’ve found a way to monetise peer pressure,” responded Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Spore.

Online gaming on services such as Microsoft’s Xbox Live, which has 17m members worldwide, or PC casual gaming destinations such as Pogo or Big Fish, generally takes place between strangers.

”Social gaming is the new casual,” says Michael Cai, video game analyst at the Interpret research firm, referring to the previous hot trend.

”If the casual gaming portals don ’t pay attention and take action as their audience migrates to some of these social gaming platforms then they are going to lose their business for sure.”

Some casual gaming services are developing their own social networking features to try to compete, but they are also suffering as their developers realise they can make games more cheaply and reach bigger audiences on Facebook.

While Apple takes a 30 per cent cut of sales of games on its iPhone, Facebook is not charging developers anything for the 5,000 games that appear on the social network, mainly because the games are initially free and the service is focused on expanding its user base.

”Down the line, when you look at 200m, 500m, 1bn users, the opportunities available there for users and developers on Facebook are just astronomical, so we’re really building towards that future,” says Gareth Davis, Facebook platform manager for games.

The service does make some money from ads placed alongside the games, but the publishers can also make money from ads, sponsorship and sales of virtual goods, such as clothes and furniture for pets. Playfish offers premium versions of games such as Who Has The Biggest Brain? and has ported a version over to the iPhone.


Using Facebook Connect technology, which enables social gaming to be extended across different devices, players can use their social networking identities in the iPhone game and play with Facebook friends there as well.

Playfish will also launch its brain game on Google’ s iGoogle service shortly. Google is following Facebook’s lead but is using the OpenSocial standard, which allows users to play against each other across different social networks such as Bebo and MySpace.

Mr Segerstråle says the challenge for developers is to understand how users have different expectations across different social networks. They must also design games in new ways.

”It’s not the story that we want to tell as game developers that’s important anymore, it’s being able to design an environment in which players can interact and express themselves and tell their own story,” he says.

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From: Sam Citron4/23/2009 12:38:37 PM
   of 40
 
America's Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire [WSJ]
By MARK PENN

In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.

Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That's almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click -- whether on their site or someone else's. And that's nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: "It's my work he'd say, I do it for pay."

Forget about huge, sweeping megaforces. The biggest trends today are micro: small, under-the-radar patterns of behavior which take on real power when propelled by modern communications and an increasingly independent-minded population. In the U.S., one percent of the nation, or three million people, can create new markets for a business, spark a social movement, or produce political change. This column is about identifying these important new niches, and acting on that knowledge.

This could make us the most noisily opinionated nation on earth. The Information Age has spawned many new professions, but blogging could well be the one with the most profound effect on our culture. If journalists were the Fourth Estate, bloggers are becoming the Fifth Estate.

What started as a discussion forum for progressive politics and new technologies has now been applied to motherhood, health care, the arts, fashion, dentistry -- and just about every other imaginable area of life. What started as a hobby and an outlet for volunteers is becoming big business for newly emerging sites, for companies that now depend upon their reviews and for the people who work in this new industry.

All this fits with the trend toward Opinion TV. Less and less of our information flow is devoted to gathering facts, and more and more is going toward popularizing opinion. Twenty-four-hour news channels have been replaced by 24-hour opinion channels. The chatter is the story.

Comparing Job Numbers in America
Lawyers 555,770
Bloggers 452,000
Computer Programmers 394,710
CEOs 299,160
Firefighters 289,710
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Demographically, bloggers are extremely well educated: three out of every four are college graduates. Most are white males reporting above-average incomes. One out of three young people reports blogging, but bloggers who do it for a living successfully are 2% of bloggers overall. It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year. Bloggers can get $75 to $200 for a good post, and some even serve as "spokesbloggers" -- paid by advertisers to blog about products. As a job with zero commuting, blogging could be one of the most environmentally friendly jobs around -- but it can also be quite profitable. For sites at the top, the returns can be substantial. At some point the value of the Huffington Post will no doubt pass the value of the Washington Post.

The barriers to entry couldn't be lower. Most bloggers for hire pay $80 to get started, do it for about 35 months, and make a few hundred dollars. But a subgroup of these bloggers are the true professionals who work at corporations, serve as highly paid blogging consultants or write for sites with substantial traffic.

Pros who work for companies are typically paid $45,000 to $90,000 a year for their blogging. One percent make over $200,000. And they report long hours -- 50 to 60 hours a week.

As bloggers have increased in numbers, the number of journalists has significantly declined. In Washington alone, there are now 79% fewer DC-based employees of major newspapers than there were just few years ago. At the same time, Washington is easily the most blogged-about city in America, if not the world.

Almost no blogging is by subscription; rather, it owes it economic model to on-line advertising. Bloggers make money if their consumers click the ads on their sites. Some sites even pay writers by the click, which is of course a system that promotes sensationalism, or doing whatever it takes to get noticed.

The United Kingdom has just had a major scandal in which an official at 10 Downing Street had planned to leak to a friendly blogger all sorts of lurid stories about the Conservatives, complete with descriptions of secret sex tapes. But all of it was to be made up, and the friendly blogger who was going to post it all thought it was an "absolutely brilliant" idea. Someone blew the whistle, but had the plot gone through, this blogstorm could have played a major role in the upcoming election.

As a political pollster, I always observed that the poll that often got the most coverage was the one that was different from the others, regardless of whether it was right, or whether the pollster had any track record. This is true with opinions, too: those on the extreme right or left, or those that are the most titillating, seem to drive the most traffic through their sites. The center doesn't seem to have either the edge or the passion to grab the same kind of traffic.

The implications of bloggers for hire are substantial. While many bloggers probably support unionization in general, they have no union of their own. Most have no benefits, yet they work long hours in front of computer screens which could cause a variety of health ailments. And the owners of the big sites most often pay their bloggers as freelancers, avoiding all of those taxes and benefits that newspapers have to pay for their writers.

For now, bloggers say they are overwhelmingly happy in their work, reporting high job satisfaction. But what happens if they, too, lose work; are they covered by unemployment insurance if tastes change and their sites go under? Are they considered journalists under shield laws? Are they subject to libel suits? Are there any limits to the opinions they churn out, or any standards to rein them in? Is there someone to complain to about false blogs or hidden conflicts? At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic outfitted bloggers with free Panasonic equipment; did that affect their opinions about the companies they wrote about? There are more questions than answers about America's Newest Profession.

It is hard to think of another job category that has grown so quickly and become such a force in society without having any tests, degrees, or regulation of virtually any kind. Courses on blogging are now cropping up, and we can't be far away from the Columbia School of Bloggerism. There is a lot of interest now in Twittering and Facebooking -- but those venues don't offer the career opportunities of blogging. Not since eBay opened its doors have so many been able to sit at their computer screens and make some money, or even make a whole living.

And with millions of human-hours now going into writing and recording opinion, we have to wonder whether being the blogging capital of the world will help America compete in the global economy. Maybe all this self-criticism will propel us forward by putting us on the right track and helping us choose the right products. Maybe it will create a resurgence in the art of writing and writing courses. Or serve as a safety net for out of work professionals in the crisis. But for how long can nearly 500,000 people who are gradually replacing whole swaths of journalists survive with no worker protections, no enforced ethics codes, limited standards, and, for most , no formal training? Even the "Wild West" eventually became just the "West."

Mark Penn Responds:

People have raised questions about the calculations on the numbers of bloggers for hire. First, I was surprised at how few studies there are on this and I believe there definitely should be more. So perhaps in the future I will do some original research, but for this piece we took the best we could find and referenced every number so people would know where they came from.

There is no question that the blogosphere, fast-growing as it is, has yet to nail down one way to measure itself or gauge its activity. But the most comprehensive sources we could find, conducted by reputable professionals, say there are over 22 million bloggers out there; and that 2% of bloggers are making their living blogging. Do the math, and you get roughly 450,000. It's a fast-growing group and we ignore their needs, and influence, at our peril.

As far as the $75,000, the Technorati report says that of those bloggers who had 100,000 or more unique visitors, the average income is $75,000. True, it's not the median, but it is the average. We can quibble about how easy it is to make this kind of money -- but the point is, the huge potential is there.

Here are some further details on the sources and calculations:

The Technorati Poll -- The methodology stipulates that in order to qualify for the survey, Technorati "state of the blogosphere" respondents needed to be bloggers over 18 years old. The survey was hosted by Decipher Inc., was in the field from July 28, 2008 through August 4, 2008, and received 1,290 completed responses from 66 countries. Survey design and analysis was conducted by Dr. Michele Madansky and Polly Arenberg. Dr. Michele Madansky runs a media and market research consultancy specializing in online media and Internet startups. From 2003 to 2007, Michele was vice president of global market research for Yahoo! Polly Arenberg is a marketing strategist with more than 20 years of experience; her clients include Yahoo!, Microsoft and Flickr, as well as numerous start-ups.

The 2% of bloggers making a living comes straight from the Technorati Poll. The total number of bloggers--22.6 million--is supported by a research report from eMarketer (2% of 22,6 million is 452,000). This report was written in May 2008 by Paul Verna, a senior analyst there: "The Blogosphere report aggregates the latest data from marketing and communications researchers with eMarketer analysis to provide the information you need to make smart, accurate business decisions."

The question of how much traffic it takes to make a living also comes from the Technorati report. We say it takes "about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year" and Technorati states those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors the average income is $75,000

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From: Sam Citron5/26/2009 11:33:09 AM
   of 40
 
Twitter Trips on Its Rapid Growth [WSJ]

Micro-Blogging Site Has 32 Million Users but Hasn't Built Revenue Model or Management Team

By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO

Twitter Inc. is confronting a slew of challenges -- from hiring, to keeping its service up and running, to finding meaningful revenue -- as the micro-blogging service deals with sudden stratospheric growth.

Even as Twitter's users have jumped to an estimated 32.1 million from 1.6 million a year ago, the San Francisco company has just 45 employees, up from around 21 in January, and it has brought on only a handful of people with sales or business experience.

Most of Twitter's employees have had to focus on maintaining the service, which allows people to post and read short, personal updates. As such, the company has had to make trade-offs between managing growth and product features.

Twitter founders Biz Stone, sitting, and Evan Williams are hiring -- slowly.

The biggest issues facing founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone are bringing on new staff to get ahead of its user growth while working out a business model. Twitter is free and the company doesn't sell advertising.

"Twitter has no current revenue stream to balance the costs," says Gartner Inc. research analyst Allen Weiner.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Williams, Twitter's chief executive, acknowledged that the start-up's small size, coupled with its rapid growth, has been constraining. "For the entire [three-year] history of the company, most of the resources have gone to managing growth and that is still the case," he says, adding that Twitter could be around 90 employees by the end of 2009. "If it weren't growing nearly as fast, we would be building a lot more things."

Mr. Williams, 37 years old, and Mr. Stone, 35, say they don't feel any external pressure to change their approach. Instead, they want to develop the company slowly in order to find people who fit with its culture, which they are working to define through rituals such as family-style lunches and weekly "teas," or happy hours.

Still, Mr. Williams, who sold online blogging company Blogger to Google Inc. in 2003, acknowledged he's in uncharted territory. "I've started a bunch of companies but never run one of this size," he says.

Meanwhile, Twitter is facing pressure to prove it has staying power, as a good number of users lose interest in the service after trying it for a while.

The management and direction of Twitter will likely be major themes on Tuesday, when Messrs. Williams and Stone will be interviewed on stage at D: All Things Digital, a technology conference in Carlsbad, Calif., run by The Wall Street Journal.

Twitter has gotten more serious about revenue and partnership opportunities. Last year, it hired a director of mobile business development and began sifting through partnership requests. Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are buzzing around trying to pitch Twitter on potential search or search advertising partnerships, according to people familiar with the matter.

Speculation continues as to the company being sold. Twitter raised $35 million from venture capitalists in February, on top of about $20 million previously raised. That month, Twitter received a $255 million valuation that makes it unlikely the company would sell for anything less than $1 billion, people familiar with the matter say.

Early this year, Messrs. Williams and Stone also began interviewing a few candidates with business experience for potential business strategy jobs, according to people familiar with the matter. The duo turned down most of them.

Twitter will need more "business-type folks eventually," says Mr. Williams, but those are the "parts of the business that we haven't fleshed out yet."

Twitter's plans for the near future include a new homepage, says Mr. Stone. Today Twitter.com is geared toward showing people how to post a Tweet, he said, but in the future, Twitter wants it to highlight how the service can help people discover what is going on around them, says Mr. Stone.

"In the long-run, we need to make Twitter the product more relevant to more people," he says.

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From: Sam Citron6/1/2009 1:28:16 PM
   of 40
 
Study: Young adults haven't warmed up to Twitter [CNET]
by Caroline McCarthy
news.cnet.com

While 99 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have profiles on social networks, only 22 percent use Twitter, according to a new survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network...

[tried to find the survey on the web with no success...
had hoped to find demographics of other social network websites]

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From: Sam Citron9/21/2009 10:57:49 AM
   of 40
 
Will Facebook Milestone Hasten An IPO? [IBD]
* Brian Deagon
* On Thursday September 17, 2009, 7:45 pm EDT

Talk of a Facebook stock offering gained new currency this week when CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared the social network cash-flow positive, a milestone that comes several months ahead of schedule.

On the firm's Web site, Zuckerberg said Facebook turned cash-flow positive in the second quarter, meaning it is generating enough cash to cover daily expenses. Facebook didn't expect to be cash-flow positive until "sometime in 2010," Zuckerberg wrote.

While company officials stress that no IPO is in the works, the cash-flow feat suggests that the popular site is managing costs well and that revenue is flowing in faster -- two factors sure to appeal to investors eager to see the site turn its popularity into a sustainable business.

"If everything falls into place, it will bring investors back into the tech markets," said David Menlow, president of IPO Financial Network. "It will significantly foster more venture capital money into new ideas that have yet to be launched. I expect investors will focus more attention on Internet technology markets once again."

A Facebook IPO is bound to be the most hyped offering since Google's whopper in August 2004, which raised $1.67 billion. It could also rekindle interest in tech IPOs and pump money back into the sector.

The tech industry could use a shot in the arm. Investments by venture capital firms hit a 13-year low of $3.7 billion in the second quarter. Likewise, the IPO market is in its longest lull in a decade.

At the Reuters Global Technology Summit last May, Zuckerberg said Facebook was in no rush to go public. Facebook spokesman Larry Yu reaffirmed that the firm has "no current plans for an IPO."

"The business is performing well, which allowed us to achieve our cash flow positive milestone earlier than projected," Yu said via e-mail.

Facebook board member Marc Andreessen in July told Reuters he expects the social-network site to generate sales of $500 million this year. Yu would not confirm that.

Justin Smith, editor of the Web site Inside Facebook, said Facebook is likely to book revenue between $500 million and $550 million this year.

"Things are going well on multiple fronts," he said. "Facebook is in a unique position with a unique degree of product insight and strategy that has allowed them to grow at an unprecedented pace."

The bulk of Facebook revenue is advertising. The rest, about $70 million this year, will be micropayments for virtual goods -- inexpensive "gift" icons such as flowers and teddy bears that people post to friends' Facebook pages. Facebook is adding icons for game playing.

"They're really expanding this business," Smith said.

Zuckerberg launched Facebook with three other co-founders in their Harvard University dorm room in 2004. It now has 300 million users, up from 175 million in February and has received more than $600 million in funding.

The figure includes a $240 million investment by Microsoft in 2007.

In May, Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian investment group, invested $200 million in Facebook for a 1.96% stake of "preferred" stock, which Facebook said placed a $10 billion valuation on the company.

U.S. financial markets have yet to launch a successful IPO in social networking. The closest they came was the planned IPO of United Online (NasdaqGS:UNTD - News) unit Classmates.com, which was canceled in December 2007.

"There hasn't been a clear, compelling business model for these (social networking sites) yet," said Benjamin Schachter, an analyst with Broadpoint 13Tech.

Facebook could fall by the wayside like so many others, he said. But with more than 300 million users and 20% growth in new users since July, that seems unlikely.

"It's an incredibly unique entity. We haven't seen growth like this in a long time," Schachter said.

When the time does come for a public offering, Facebook will need to look rock-solid, said Linda Killian, portfolio manager of Renaissance Capital's IPO Plus Fund .

"Investors aren't drinking Kool-Aid anymore," she said. "They will be looking real hard at the business model."

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From: Glenn Petersen10/6/2009 11:03:02 AM
   of 40
 
An interesting statistical analysis of Twitter usage:

Message 25997261

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From: Sam Citron12/12/2009 11:40:30 AM
   of 40
 
Social Networks as Foreign Policy
nytimes.com

In August, after the suppression of Iran's pro-democracy protests, officials in Tehran accused Western governments of using online social networks like Twitter and Facebook to help execute a "soft coup." The accusation wasn't entirely off-base. In Iran and elsewhere, this year showed the growing importance of social networks to U.S. foreign policy.

Long before the protests in Iran started, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. civilian international broadcasting, had in place software to counter censorship in countries like Iran, so people could better access the blogosphere. And the State Department financially supports agencies that make it easier for Iranians and others to surf the Web. After the protests began, the State Department asked Twitter to reschedule a maintenance outage so the activists could continue to spread the word about their movement.
The United States has long disseminated information to people living under repressive regimes — think of Radio Free Europe. The difference here is that the content of the information isn't the important thing; the emphasis is on supporting the technical infrastructure and then letting the people decide for themselves what to say. Communication itself erodes despots' authority. "The very existence of social networks is a net good," says Alec Ross, a senior adviser on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Outside of Iran, the State Department recently underwrote the establishment of Pakistan's first mobile-phone-based social network, Humari Awaz ("Our Voice"). More than eight million text messages were sent over it in a little over two weeks. And Ross recently traveled to Mexico with the Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey and other technology executives to help build an electronic system for anonymously reporting drug crimes, which they say they hope will undermine narcotics kingpins.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has written about the efficacy of samizdat in undermining the Soviet Union, sees a similar dynamic at work here. "The freedom of communication and the nature of it," he has said, "is a huge strategic asset for the United States."


NOAH SHACHTMAN

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From: Sam Citron12/12/2009 11:40:37 AM
   of 40
 
Social Networks as Foreign Policy
nytimes.com

In August, after the suppression of Iran's pro-democracy protests, officials in Tehran accused Western governments of using online social networks like Twitter and Facebook to help execute a "soft coup." The accusation wasn't entirely off-base. In Iran and elsewhere, this year showed the growing importance of social networks to U.S. foreign policy.

Long before the protests in Iran started, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. civilian international broadcasting, had in place software to counter censorship in countries like Iran, so people could better access the blogosphere. And the State Department financially supports agencies that make it easier for Iranians and others to surf the Web. After the protests began, the State Department asked Twitter to reschedule a maintenance outage so the activists could continue to spread the word about their movement.
The United States has long disseminated information to people living under repressive regimes — think of Radio Free Europe. The difference here is that the content of the information isn't the important thing; the emphasis is on supporting the technical infrastructure and then letting the people decide for themselves what to say. Communication itself erodes despots' authority. "The very existence of social networks is a net good," says Alec Ross, a senior adviser on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Outside of Iran, the State Department recently underwrote the establishment of Pakistan's first mobile-phone-based social network, Humari Awaz ("Our Voice"). More than eight million text messages were sent over it in a little over two weeks. And Ross recently traveled to Mexico with the Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey and other technology executives to help build an electronic system for anonymously reporting drug crimes, which they say they hope will undermine narcotics kingpins.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has written about the efficacy of samizdat in undermining the Soviet Union, sees a similar dynamic at work here. "The freedom of communication and the nature of it," he has said, "is a huge strategic asset for the United States."


NOAH SHACHTMAN

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From: Sam Citron1/6/2010 9:55:20 AM
   of 40
 
Indian Official Gets Far on a Few Words [NYT]
By LYDIA POLGREEN

NEW DELHI — It seemed an innocent enough question, posed by an Indian on vacation recently in the palace-studded region of Rajasthan. Should the Indian government make it more difficult for tourists to visit the country’s glorious sights by tightening visa requirements in the name of preventing terrorism?

On a road trip with his wife, the man who posed the question, Shashi Tharoor, tapped out this brief missive to his Twitter followers on his BlackBerry, in the cramped argot necessitated by Twitter’s 140-character limit: “Dilemma of our age. Tough visa restrictions in hope of btr security or openness & liberality to encourage tourism & goodwill? I prefer latter.”

But Mr. Tharoor, a writer and a former top United Nations diplomat, who is now a member of Parliament and a junior minister of foreign affairs, is not just any Indian, and the message went out not to just a handful of friends but to more than half a million people who follow him on Twitter.

That message, along with a few others mildly questioning the merits of India’s new, stricter tourist visa policies, landed him on the front page of most of India’s English-language newspapers, which accused him of a very big mistake in Indian politics: appearing to disagree publicly with his superiors on a delicate issue.

Politicians in democracies the world over have warmed to Twitter, the microblogging service, and other social media tools, like Facebook, to connect with voters. Many members of the United States Congress use it, as does Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

But in India, the world’s largest and most boisterous democracy, it has not caught on with elected officials. Indeed, many of India’s power elite, whether in politics, the news media or business, seem to look askance at Mr. Tharoor’s enthusiasm for a medium that collapses the distance between the governors and the governed and dismantles the layers of protocol and decorum that keep elected officials and senior bureaucrats here aloof from the everyday concerns of those they serve.

Most of India’s political elite seem to have no idea what Twitter is. Many senior bureaucrats see it as a waste of time. Asked if he would consider using Twitter, India’s home secretary, G. K. Pillai, pursed his lips disapprovingly and said, “I haven’t got the time.”

But Mr. Tharoor reads almost every post sent his way, according to his staff, and personally responds to as many as he can. Such direct access to an elected official is almost unheard of in India, and Mr. Tharoor’s use of the medium has helped define his political rise...

more at nytimes.com

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