Archive - December 2010

1
Crowds Vs. Mobs
2
Videos of the Year
3
The Online/On Land Disconnect
4
Landmark Online Giving Study
5
LinkedIn: The Little Network That Could
6
Wikileaks ≠ Transparency

Crowds Vs. Mobs

Those of us happily swimming in the social media waters often extol the virtues of crowds of people who can act collectively to generate new knowledge or new products. Beth just wrote a great post for Huffington Post providing a summary from our book on the various ways that crowds can work together to support causes. Crowds can create knowledge together (e.g. Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count), they can create a product or work of art together (e.g. Royal Opera Company’s Twitter Opera). And, of course, crowds of people can vote for their favorite Idol or candidate or grantee or sports all star online.

But there is a dark side to crowds and that is when they turn into mobs. There have been two instances in particular of mob behavior online that have caught my eye. The first was the explosion of vitriol aimed at Cooks Source Magazine and its editor, Judith Griggs. A free lance writer, Monica Gaudio, posted a story on her blog on November 3rd, 2010 about this magazine using an article of her without permission. As if the lifting of her story wasn’t bad enough, the response she received from the editor was appalling. The most egregious passage from her response was this widely circulated paragraph:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

The outrage in the blogosphere and on the magazine’s Facebook page was fast, ferocious and unforgiving.

Of course, the magazine realized the PR disaster it had on its hands and within a matter of days issued an apology and a donation to Columbia School of Journalism as Monica had originally suggested.

Two weeks later the magazine, with just two staff people Griggs and her daughter, had shut down.

Last week the Internet was abuzz with rumors that the social bookmarking site, Delicious, was shutting down. An employee of Yahoo! the parent company of Delicious tweeted out this slide from a presentation:

What to do to save years worth of tags and bookmarks many of us had been saving on Delicious? A flurry of tweets flew around with suggestions of sites to transfer information from Delicious. Beth suggested Diigo and yesterday I set up an account there and transferred all of my data form Delicious to Diigo. It’s impossible to know exactly how many other people have done similarly in the last week, however, there was a message on the Diigo site saying that it was slow because thousands of new accounts had been created to do exactly what I was doing.

Today Kerri Karvetski posted on my Facebook wall a link to this article saying that that the death of Delicious may have been prematurely reported. The article quotes a part of a blog post from Yahoo saying:

“We’re actively thinking about the future of Delicious and we believe there is a home outside the company that would make more sense for the service and our users,” the blog post says. “We’re in the process of exploring a variety of options and talking to companies right now. And we’ll share our plans with you as soon as we can.”

Thousands of users have already shifted over in the time it took Yahoo to respond to the rumors. What may have been a slideshow intended to spur internal brainstorming may have turned into a death knell for Delicious.

I’ve been thinking about how these two examples are alike and different.

They are alike in that these mobs formed instantly and widely online and they both killed an institution (I’m guessing the damage to Delicious may be irreversible, could be wrong about that, of course.)

Of course, there are significant differences between them. In the case of The Cooks Source the crowd was incensed, rightly, by the insensitive and ignorant comments from the editor. However, the Delicious example is unclear whether it was an employee trying to save or bury Delicious by making public an internal presentation. I know, there is no internal or external in our Wikileaks world, however, it seems that the intention of the presenter here was to share an early idea not make a public announcement. In addition, the Cooks Source crowd was out for blood, the Delicious crowd just wanted to protect itself even though the consequences of inaccurate information leaking out early may be that we all inadvertently put them out of business.

All in all, these examples leave me with more questions:

1. When and how does a crowd turn into a mob – and is there any way back once it becomes a mob?

2. How can a company or organization, particularly a small one like Cooks Source, react fast and widely enough to calm a mob? One answer is that they will need friends in their network to advocate on their behalf, but again, this requires an incredibly fast and loud response to calm a mob.

3. We are assuming no evil and premeditated intent on the part of the mob catalyst in both of these cases. But what if someone had an ax to grind with the magazine or with Yahoo! We’re living in an environment where widespread panic is just a mouse click away for any organization or company. Even though the process is opaque, even Wikileaks portends to do some due diligence on the information it receives to verify it’s authenticity.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, just thinking about them…

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Videos of the Year

Welcome to my third annual Videos of the Year post!  This year I want to concentrate on the videos that are clearly self-made, not videos that are the equivalent of the old, professional public service announcements. Not that there is anything wrong with professional videos, it’s just a different animal from self-made content that individuals (which free agents or part of organizations) create to share a story or advocate for a cause.

Please share any videos you thought were terrific this year.

Here are my top videos of the year, in no particular order:

I had the chance to talk to Dan Savage about this video for a Social Good podcast. Two things really stuck with me during our conversation. The first was the spontaneous nature of the making of this video. Dan and Terry just decided one night to make this video, without a script, with a friend holding the video camera. The second was the fact that not only did this video go viral, but the entire It Gets Better YouTube channel went viral, with thousands of people uploading their own videos and stories. I can’t think of another channel going viral like this, it’s a really remarkable event; a combination of lucky timing and real, heartfelt stories.

One of those personal, homemade stories posted on the It Gets Better YouTube channel was this one by Buddie. If you’re not moved by this, well, I’m not sure what would move you.

This video was a contestant in the Acumen Fund’s Sanitation is Sexy contest. As the daughter of a civil sanitary engineer, I find this topic and video particularly effective.

Mark Horvath, also known as Hardly Normal on Twitter, is a remarkable free agent (now an award-winning free agent according to Mashable) and advocate for homeless people. His efforts teaching homeless people how to use social media, particularly through the vehicle of Invisible People TV, to tell their own stories and advocate for their needs are both inspiring and effective.

But, if I were to select the best public service announcement videos of the year, there are plenty of great ones to choose from. OK, twist my arm, here are my top three:

and, finally, my favorite video of the year (who doesn’t love school kids advocating for a new roof?) which is one of the winner of the Bing Competition:

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The Online/On Land Disconnect

Nancy Scola wrote a terrific post about a new report from the Berkman Center called Political Change in the Digital Age: The Fragility and Promise of Online Organizing.

The paper is a great primer on political activism in repressive regimes, how change happens and what makes it so hard and risky.

Nancy nails the key, and most provocative, argument in the paper: “We might, in other words, watch in awe as  video of Neda Agha Soltan’s death during Iran’s post-election protests goes viral, to give an example, and be too quick in seeing in it evidence of some sort of powerful social and political resistance, when the actual facts on the ground might not bear that understanding out.”

Here is one of those videos just as a reminder:

But what changed on the ground, politically as a result of the protests? We’re not sure, certainly not as much as the protesters or the watchers hoped in the moment. Of course, as the authors of Political Change in the Digital Age quoting Marshall Ganz point out, these kinds of regime-change movements take a long time to realize. So these protests may have planted a seed, created supporters, put into motion future change that we won’t know about for years.

The authors hit on the key issue facing activists using social media. This is what I’ve called Phase Three in the development of social media for social change. Phase One was the wonderful euphoria at the beginning of this century of discovery of social media. Look at this amazing stuff, we shouted. Look at all of these free, ubiquitous, easy-to-use tools that enable regular people blog and have a voice they’ve never had before. Watch them create videos, make their own playlists and share songs, and then watch them connect with new and old friends online and create their own social spheres.  Wahoo, look at power seep from institutions and move towards individuals!

Phase Two was seeing what all of these tools did to organizations that embraced them. That’s why Beth and I wrote The Networked Nonprofit, to understand and examine what happens internally and externally to nonprofits that are organized more as social networks than stand alone institutions. In short, wonderful things happen as outsiders get out and insiders get in. Networked Nonprofits include wonderful organizations like MomsRising.org, charity:water, Surfrider Foundation.

And now we’re inching our way into Phase Three. We’re connecting, pinging, poking, friending, fanning, running for our causes – made much easier in countries like ours that encourage free association and speech – but what is it all adding up to? In other words: so what?

The Berkman paper focuses on the use of the Internet to strengthen and power nongovernmental organizations and efforts to reform authoritarian regimes. There have been significant limitations to these efforts, largely because these governments simply shut down the sites and flows of information to the networks of activists. As the authors note, “Efforts at digital organizing in Iran do not appear to have been effective. In the run-up to the disputed election, the Mousavi campaign sought to use Facebook to rally supporters. The government responded by simply blocking access to Facebook. Online communities that congregate at a single URL are easily dismantled; organizations that rely on a centralized nodes and hierarchical structures are trivial to break up.”

Although our government is less likely to shut down sites, at least publicly, we still haven’t connected all of the dots from outrage or empathy or concern expressed online and political success on land. We know they need to be connected, that social change actually happens on land, always, but how we make that connection and whether lighter engagements, all of that pinging and fanning (derisively called slactivism by some), actually makes a difference in and of itself is the next set of questions to be answered.

Lucy began this discussion a few months ago. And it needs to continue. Here are a few first steps:

  1. Organizations need to o consider more carefully how to integrate their online and on land efforts.
  2. We need to overcome our addiction to online analytical tools, all of those pretty and instant charts and graphs and engage in more traditional evaluation methods to find out what people knew as a result of their online engagements and what, if anything, they did as a result.
  3. Most all, I want to know what is working, where is social change actually happening (distinguished from acts of loving kindness, like collecting coats in winter time, which are wonderful, necessary things to do but not social change.) Where and how are all of these efforts actually making a difference?

Don’t be cowed by the difficulty of these tasks. As I wrote above, we’re just at the beginning of Phase Three, so we have time to explore it and figure it out. It’s good to know, at least, what phase we’re in!

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Landmark Online Giving Study

Network for Good and TrueSense Marketing released their long awaited study of online giving appropriately named The Online Giving Study. The study looked at data for about $400 million worth of giving across charitable websites, giving portals and social networks processed by Network for Good.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • What we know about successful fundraising stays with the same with social media. A key passage of the report is, “Raising funds online is not about technology, any more than raising funds through the mail is about paper. It’s about the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor who wants to support a cause. People who give online are no different from other donors in that they expect a relationship— not simply a transaction—with the organization they support.”
  • Online relationships are often deeply affected by offline connections and cultivation.
  • December (people giving for tax purposes at the end of the year, literally the last days of the year) and disasters dominate the online giving landscape.

For me, the key data from the report is this chart:

Holy cow, look at how donors come and stay on organization’s websites for giving compared to portals (like Network for Good) and social networking sites (like Facebook)! Really, it’s not even close — I’m even wondering if the other channels are worth all of the effort, hoopla and eyeball fatigue they are creating.

The report emphasizes several times that donors are giving largely through an organization’s website because of the relationship they have with that organization. And if they give through another site, like a giving portal like Change.org, they give less and are not likely to give again.

These particular data raise two questions in my mind:

  1. Do these findings reinforce the skepticism that have had about the need for Jumo? (You can see some of the criticism here and here.) What is the point of yet another platform that takes away time and attention from individual organizations if we’re finding that donors are not deepening their relationships anywhere but on their own site.
  2. Does this make a group like charity:water, a born and bred Networked Nonprofit, look even more prescient building their own network, my charity:water, on their site as a place for action, advocacy and fundraising?
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LinkedIn: The Little Network That Could

This month’s Social Good podcast focuses on the second life of LinkedIn.

Sometimes social media tools and channels come and go so quickly I never learn how to pronounce the name of the thing! And then sometimes, not often, but just sometimes, a tool starts, levels off and then has a more dynamic second life. LinkedIn is one of those second life social media tools. I remember when it started I just kept adding friends but didn’t really have any idea of why I was adding them or what do with them. Facebook seemed a more interesting place to be and meet people and share, unless you were looking for a job and then LinkedIn was a must.

LinkedIn then began to reinvent itself. As other social network sites were flattening out in terms of the number of users, LinkedIn was soaring – passing 60 million users this year, increasing by ten million users a year over the past several years. That’s still small compared to the over 300 million users on Facebook, but it’s not nothing. Then, I saw an article that said that LinkedIn was the only social network was that was profitable – take that Facebook and MySpace! Then it added the functionality to create groups of people with a common interest or geographic area. And all of a sudden my LinkedIn friending began to soar again.

My interest was really piqued when Susan Kistler, the Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association told me that they transitioned their longstanding listserve to a LinkedIn group last year and that the conversation was richer as a result.

The LinkedIn experts on this month’s podcast are Amy Sample Ward, a pioneer in the use of social media by nonprofits and currently the Community Development Manager for TechSoup Global and Estrella Rosenberg, serial nonprofit entrepreneur,  philanthropy expert and author of Adventures In Philanthropy

I hope you enjoy listening to Amy and Estrella with their very practical advice on how best to use LinkedIN for your organization or cause.  It’s really the little social network that could!

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Wikileaks ≠ Transparency

As much as I hate using “gate” moniker, I want to discuss what is being called “Cablegate” because its ramifications for organizational life.

If you’ve been leaving beneath your bed for the last few weeks, you may not know that Cablegate refers to the release of thousands of secret State Department communications by Wikileaks. Here is good synopsis of the lead by Time Magazine.

Wikileaks first came onto the world’s radar screen by posting a video of American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians. This is whistleblowing. The American military it appears had done a terrible thing and then covered it up. This is what journalists do, they uncover the bad things that companies and governments do and shed light on them. Daniel Ellsberg is one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, having released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times to reveal the lies that the US government was telling the public about their administration of the war in Vietnam.

Cablegate isn’t whistleblowing, it isn’t righting a wrong, unveiling unethical or immoral behavior. It is the theft of regular communications that makes it nearly impossible for the State Department to function.

One of the smartest people I know, well, actually one of the smartest people anywhere, Esther Dyson, discussed the downside of what she called “radical transparency” at Transparency Camp last year a double edged sword for organizational leaders. Beth Kanter reported Esther saying at the camp, “Esther Dyson said that transparency should be able the results and any deals, but there is a place for private discussion.   “We could all go around naked and look like angels, but in the real world that doesn’t happen.”  Transparency has its benefits, but so does privacy.  As Esther Dyson said, “There is a need for respect – of relationships, to get trust, and further understandings.   You can’t be fully transparent all the time because you need to give people a safe place to have the discussion without disrespecting others.”

And there is why I respectfully disagree with my friend and colleague, Micah Sifry, who wrote yesterday on his blog on TechPresident, “…there is a danger rising both to internet freedom and open government here, but that is not because of Wikileaks. It is because people who are threatened by more transparency want to stop this trend before it is completely uncontrollable.”

Leaks like Cablegate might be inevitable, however they are not honorable or constructive. Street crime might be inevitable but that doesn’t make it right. It also makes the word of transparency advocates, like Micah, much harder because it masks the true beauty and value of transparency which is to enable outsiders to get in and insiders to get out in order to make the work or product or law better. Transparency is not an academic exercise or window dressing for show, when done well and right, for instance in the ways that the Sunlight Foundation works, it makes the work better. Releasing every day cables of conversations within the State Department doesn’t make anything better, it just makes the work harder to do at all, much less do well.

The leakers, including Wikileaks, should be punished for it. How is any organization or government agency supposed to do business, to wrestle with complicated situations where the answers aren’t clear cut, in other words deal with the world as it is, if every conversation, every thought, every musing is going to be public.

The shame as Micah points out is that this kind of behavior provides cover for anti-transparency forces to have an excuse to become more opaque. They would would head in that direction anyway. News organizations should not have printed these leaks, it wasn’t news, it was a crime.

OK, folks, start disagreeing now!

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