Weekly #11 Tech-Savvy But Traditional – How to Win Online in 2012

What will be key to winning the 2012 election online?  I think the answer lies in both the past and the future.  Traditional tactics made smarter, faster, wider-reaching through technology. 

Politics 2.0

Politics is no longer only about door-knocking, bumper stickers and political rallies – how very 2000.  Yet these methods can’t be discounted, according to Monte Lutz of Edelman, who writes, “Although the Obama campaign was revolutionary in some respects, it ultimately used the same tools that many campaigns had previously employed.”

Raise money, convince people of your agenda, and get them out to vote.  A job for any campaign organizer, made easier if your candidate has an engaging presence and a message that resonates. These are all still the underpinnings of politics or of any persuasive campaign – and the one foot that politics will keep in the past.

The other foot will be in the future – where technology will ramp up the speed and scale of messaging, fundraising and organizing.  Joe Trippi, national campaign manager for Howard Dean’s campaign, points out how much technology can change the landscape in under three years.  From the last day of Dean’s campaign, he says blogging skyrocketed from over a million to 77 million, and where there was no YouTube there is now a virtual universe.

Author Garrett Graff describes how the Obama campaign essentially won $45 million dollars worth of free advertising from online videos.  He writes, “All told, the campaign created nearly 2,000 YouTube videos, which in turn were watched for some 14.6 million hours.”

So what will be key to winning online in 2012?  I would marry traditional tactics with growing online trends.  Here are four:

  • YouTube:  Data from comScore shows that in January 2010 alone, nearly 173 million US internet users watched online video, an average of 93 videos each.  That’s an increase of 50% from a year ago.  So politicians should go where the eyeballs are, tell personal stories with real people and then ask other real people to respond with their own stories.


  • Facebook:  It’s the fastest-growing social network in the world and it’s growing into a powerful tool for convincing others.  Social media watchers say “friend-casting” or recommendations from trusted sources like friends on Facebook is changing how people make decisions.


  • Online Games:  100 million people can’t be wrong.  Demographics show that all kinds of people play online games now.  Game Mechanics can be inserted into just about any situation – look at FourSquare or even the way that the Obama campaign rewarded active supporters in 2008.  Elections are one big competition and people want the team to recognize their efforts in helping the captain win.


  • Smart Phones:  Computers are getting smaller and more mobile.  No longer do we even have to take our laptop to Starbucks.  We can read, watch, comment, link and organize through our smart phones.   

To win online in 2012 politicians should keep one eye on the rear-view mirror while driving into the future.  What do you think?


Personal #3 Is There Life After Chocolate?

The perfect food.

If I could choose my last meal I can say without hesitation it would be chocolate, for there is no food more perfect.

Sure it’s high in fat, sugar and caffeine.  But it has redeeming qualities.  Research shows dark chocolate especially, has antioxidants that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. 

But forget all that.  It just tastes GOOD.  No, it FEELS GOOD!  There’s research on that too.  Turns out the caffeine, theobromine and phenyethylamine in chocolate have addictive qualities that  trigger the brain’s pleasure centers.  In fact lab tests showed that rats would rather eat nothing at all for two weeks than eat healthy when their junk food and chocolate were taken away. 

Lab rats, I feel your pain.  I’ve never been a smoker, drinker, or the kind of person who makes New Year’s resolutions to quit bad habits.  But I’m starting to think I need an intervention over chocolate.  Nutritionists say it’s okay to indulge in about an ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week.  Hmmm.  How about a few times a day?  The past few months of school, work and parenting have been fueled by frequent raids on the cupboard, even the kids’ Valentine’s gifts and Easter baskets!

So, about 10 days ago I decided this was madness and I should quit.  But then I decided it would be too stressful to quit before the end of semester. (Are you sensing an addict’s reasoning here?)  So my “break free” day is now May 1 – a nice round number.  Of course announcing this date to myself has caused me to double down on the chocolate eating since I’ll soon be cut off.

So, will I ever again be able to have just one?  Is there life after chocolate?

Here now, the chocolate-lover’s reasoning on why I shouldn’t bother to find out:

  • Q: Why is there no such organization as Chocoholics Anonymous?
    A: Because no one wants to quit.
  • “The 12-step chocoholics program: Never be more than 12 steps away from chocolate!” – Terry Moore
  • Chocolate is cheaper than therapy and you don’t need an appointment.
    — Catherine Aitken
  • If you’ve got melted chocolate all over your hands, you’re eating it too slowly.
  • How do you get 2 pounds of chocolate home in a hot car – eat it in the car park.
  • Chocolate has preservatives. Preservatives make you look younger.
  • A nice box of chocolates can provide your total daily intake of calories in one go.  Isn’t that handy?
  • I could give up chocolate but I’m not a quitter.

Weekly #10 How Bloggers Keep War Real

Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be in a war zone, either as a soldier or a resident of the war-torn country?  Most of us can only imagine the fear, the terrible conditions, or the pride in purpose that being under fire creates.    

We may not be on the frontlines but bloggers have brought us closer.   Soldiers have written about the sights, smells, heat, boredom and danger.  Check out the minute by minute description of a 2008 raid on an Iraqi house written by blogger Matt G. on his Kaboom blog.  The entry, called “The Brothel,” puts the reader right in the living room as Matt G. interrogates a widow and her daughters.

His unvarnished dialogue makes it clear why some Iraqis have seen  Americans as invaders rather than helpers.  While it may not be a flattering portrait, it’s real.  In his book Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg describes this as “the unedited voice of a person…. where you got to say your piece your own way.” (p. 63)

Red Platoon Patrol of Samarra 2007, Photo Jeff Emanuel

Blogger Jeff Emanuel uses photos  to bring to life what he calls “Raids, Grenades and Gunfire.”  It’s a detailed description of his platoon’s actions in Samarra in 2007.  He writes:

“As we all took cover, I and one soldier, Specialist Ryan Testa, had the rotten luck of ducking into the one house entrance whose courtyard door would not open, so we were left halfway hanging out in the breeze, with rounds being sprayed in our general direction.”

Even when the danger has passed and they’ve returned to America, some military bloggers continue to post.  Army of Dude blogger Alex Horton now writes about life as a veteran going back to school.

“Somewhere in the dense palm groves of the Diyala River  Valley is my true self.  I left behind a boisterous and outspoken personality for a muted and introverted existence in the classroom…I was raised in the same era as my peers, but I did not grow up with them.”

These are real  stories, conveying genuine emotion.   And of course those human reactions are felt on all sides.  The young author of the Baghdad Burning blog wrote eloquently of her family’s decision to flee Iraq for Syria in 2007.

“We were all refugees- rich or poor. And refugees all look the same- there’s a unique expression you’ll find on their faces- relief, mixed with sorrow, tinged with apprehension. The faces almost all look the same.  The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness… How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe twenty minutes, so firmly segregates life from death?”

Life and death – for the first time seen through the unfiltered eyes of bloggers.  I think their view reminds us of the humanity that gets lost when countries go to war.  What do you think?

Response #3 Just a Kid In a Grown-Up Mess

Bottom line:  he’s just a kid.  She’s an adult and should have known better.  That’s really what it comes down to for me in the story of the Tennessee woman who adopted a 7-year-old boy from Russia then sent him back on the plane alone after six months because she couldn’t handle him.  There has been much online finger-pointing in this case.  Blame can be shared all around.  But ultimately, this woman broke her promise to raise that child.

Photo: Daily Mail

It’s been just over a week since we first heard the story and all we know for sure is that Artyom Savelyev (re-named Justin Hansen) flew unaccompanied from Washington, DC to Moscow, was picked up by a Russian driver hired online and transported to Russian authorities.  In his backpack he carried a letter from 33-year-old single nurse and adoptive mother Torry Hansen, who wrote, “This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues…After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

The obvious questions arise: How could you send a 7-year-old on a plane by himself with only the uncertain arrangement of a stranger waiting on the other end?  You knew the boy had spent years with an alcoholic mother and in a foster home – how could you not think he would have some emotional baggage even if the adoption agency didn’t tell you?  When he started having problems who did you contact to help before returning him like a faulty product?

We don’t know the answers to these questions because so far Torry Hansen isn’t talking, to media, state officials or the police who are still trying to decide if they can charge her with anything.

Russia has suspended adoptions to the US, leaving hundreds of families in limbo.  Meanwhile, there’s a great debate over Hansen’s actions.   Here’s an excerpt from the blog Double Happiness, written by an adoptive mother of two girls from China.

“A boy, age 7, is not a baby.  At age seven, most children understand the difference between right and wrong but still need lots of guidance.  How do you punish a boy who has nothing he cherishes?  If he physically threatens you or your other children, what is your recourse?  How do you keep your family safe today?”

Torry Hansen’s mother told the Associated Press that Artyom yelled and screamed and threatened to burn down the house.  Scary?  Yes.  But in this case I refute the assertion by Double Happiness blogger that 7-year-old Artyom should have known better. 

I have regular discussions with local moms about the emotional health of our own children who engage in tantrums, obstinance, yelling, name calling and more.  Did you know that perfectly “normal” four- and five-year-olds will hit, kick, bite, pinch, and throw stuff at their moms, all while slamming doors and yelling things like, “Mean Mommy,” “Worst Mommy in the world,” “I don’t like you,” or even, “I’m going to chop your head off!”  Yes, these are all real situations that have happened recently to me and my neighbors. 

These aren’t abused or neglected children.  Experts say that this is part of normal emotional development as children figure out the world and their place in it.  I say it’s not surprising that Artyom is acting like a 5-year-old.  His circumstances likely stalled his development.

Hansen may also have put unrealistic expectations on a boy who had never experienced stability and now found himself in a new country.  “A person entering another culture has to learn all new rules, a new language. The food is different. The climate is different. Expectations in the home can be very different,” child psychiatrist Dr. Lynna Hollis told Tennessean.com.

I do agree with another adoptive parent blogger, author of When Rain Hurts, who writes that blame should be shared all around.  I believe Torry Hansen has no excuse for not anticipating problems when other parents who have adopted Russian children are already blogging openly about their ordeals.  The Russian government should better regulate its orphanages and thoroughly inform adoptive parents.  Children and adults should undergo counseling before and after adoption to ensure a smoother transition.  US authorities should better track international adoptions to understand what causes them to fail.

Maybe this case will make a difference.  Maybe in the future potential adopters will research and better prepare themselves.  Maybe Artyom will find a new home with people who have the resources and willpower to stick with him for the long haul.  Back in Russia he turned eight the other day – still just a kid.




Weekly #9 T is for Tunisia…..and Taboo

A show of hands from people in our social media class who take for granted being able to blog about whatever they want.  I’m guessing the number would be pretty high.  In the United States freedom of expression is a basic right guaranteed by the First Amendment.  So whether you want to blog about your cat, your kids, your professional expertise, or how awful you think the government is handling the environment or health care, almost no subject is taboo. 

Not so for bloggers in the Northern African country of Tunisia.  This week we were asked to check out Global Voices, choose a country starting with the first letter of our name and write about it.  After reading posts from Turkey, Turkmenistan and Turks and Caicos Island, I was drawn to Tunisia.

 Many of the blog entries posted by featured writer Lina Ben Mhenni

Lina Ben Mhenni

focus on censorship.  She translates posts by fellow bloggers from French and Arabic into English.  Reading them it’s obvious that while our nations differ in language, we have in common a desire to express ourselves freely.  Tunisians however, are not able to do so without threat of being blocked or even jailed.

 Ben Mhenni writes about numerous bloggers who have been arrested and detained by police or repeatedly shut down by the country’s internet filters for writing about the government, freedom of speech or even student housing.

The problem has been documented by observers both inside and outside the country.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about it in a January speech at the Newseum.  And just yesterday Tunisia was targeted by Reporters Without Borders in its World Against Cyber Censorship day.  Ben Mhenni contributed this experience:

“Do you know how does it feel to be censored? Well I do! Indeed, I am experiencing this DISGUSTING feeling since February 24th, 2010.  That day, back home from work I was so disappointed when I discovered the horrible “Error 404” message – a message that stands for a censored web page in my country.”

A detailed report on the censorship methods used by Tunisian authorities was issued by The Observatoire pour la Liberte de Presse, d’Edition et de Creation (OLPEC).  It describes how “Tunisia prides itself on being the first Arab and African country to be connected to the Net,” yet fearful of its power, “very early on developed the region’s most extensive and strict regulation of the Web.”

Indeed.  Imagine your internet experience filtered, websites blocked, emails monitored and intercepted, public internet cafes closed, blogs infiltrated or foreign-hosted websites attacked– all have been documented in Tunisia.

 Writers there now expect censorship and some even see it as a badge of honor. 

 Tunisian blogger Ghodwa Nahrek writes:

“It is no longer a form of oppression and a limit to freedom of expression as it is a medal for the blogger and a certificate from the censor showing the value of a blog and the importance of the subjects it deals with.”

OLPEC got it right when it wrote that the battle between repressive authorities and citizens who demand a free and open internet is “lost before it began, because the technology used to circumvent censorship is developing as quickly as the one used by the censors to cast their nets, making those nets increasingly ineffective.

History shows us that people will find a way to make their voices heard.

Personal #2 Big Ideas – How to Generate Them for Your Blog

Photo from: pchaney.typepad.com

When you were a kid did you ever say to your Mom, “I’m bored?”  Did she say, “Use your imagination?” If you were like me you would have replied, “I don’t have an imagination.”  Well of course we all do, and for those thinking about blogging beyond the end of our social media class, we’ll have to tap into it.

We’ve learned there are hallmarks of a good blog:  frequency, having something to say, inviting comments.  This handy summary of stats from Technorati’s 2009 State of the Blogoshphere reports that most bloggers update 2 – 3 times a week and 72 % say they blog to share their expertise.

But how many blogs die out after a few months?   This site says there are at least 126 million blogs on the internet.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on how many are active.

I’m guessing a substantial number of well-intentioned bloggers lose steam pretty quickly.  But fear not, if you’ve hit a wall there are many other bloggers out there who can help you climb over it.  A simple Google search for “blog topics” returns a number of possibilities.  I actually like the two that come up at the top of the Google search because the author Chris Brogan says it’s not just about the thoughts you write but the way you frame them that will interest a reader.  Check out his 20- and 100-topic lists “to get you unstuck.”

Maybe you’re looking for ideas specific to a certain audience.  Again, a simple search on “blog topics for” brings results directed at students, women, writers, kids, teachers or moms.  Here are a couple of posts on Ideas that Always Generate Buzz and Ideas that Will Make Your Blog Sizzle.  If you’re still not buzzing or sizzling, here are another 100 Ways to Find Ideas for Your Blog Posts.

Beginners like me and even seasoned professionals are not always going to be unique.  Lots of posts have been written on this very topic, for example.  But from what I’ve seen, readers still appreciate a blog that points them to other useful sources.  If it helps spur your imagination and then create something unique, even better.  Mom will be proud.

What about you?  Do you have blog ideas you want to share?

Weekly #8 Wikipedia – Your Trusted News Aggregator

Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 was one of those “shake your head” kinds of days.  I was halfway through a health care story for the Canadian newscast Global National, when a colleague walked by my desk and mentioned there was a six-year-old boy alone in a runaway hot air balloon.  Having my own almost-six-year-old at home, I was horrified.  He must be so afraid, so cold, I thought.

Of course he was neither because Falcon Heene, who quickly became known as “balloon boy,” was never in the balloon as it streaked across three counties before landing near the Denver airport. 

From anotherbeautifulday.wordpress.com

It was a riveting story though: a missing boy, anxious parents, live satellite video of the balloon.  Of course we dropped health care and started working on it.  Before long, we heard the Heene’s were on the TV program Wife Swap.  That led to YouTube where there was a goldmine of Heene family video.  Let me digress to mention that after watching it I said to the guys, “there’s something fishy about all this.”

Sure enough, the pressure was too much and Falcon Heene couldn’t help but “spill” the story.  Remember the interview where he threw up when asked why he hid in the garage?

As often happens in breaking news, media outlets feed off one another, confirming new details they hear from others in addition to developing their own leads.  I’ve always watched the majors –  CNN, Reuters, Associated Press.  I have to say I’ve never thought of looking to Wikipedia for breaking news coverage.

Maybe next time I will.  Our class discussion of the 2005 London Underground bombings showed there are Wikipedia people who take it upon themselves to write about major events.  We learned that story’s page was created about 20 minutes after the bombings and edited 40 times in the first hour. 

The Balloon Boy page was created about two hours after the story first broke.  The page history shows it was edited 59 times in two hours and 35 minutes, before the 60th entry updated that Falcon Heene was found unharmed in the garage attic.

What began as Colorado 2009 Balloon Incident is now called Balloon Boy Hoax and has been updated more than 500 times.  So I would agree with Garrett Graff’s statement that pages like this one are an example of systematic journalism – where someone who has never heard of this story could read the page and learn everything about it.

Do I agree that Wikipedia is a credible breaking news source?  I guess that depends if I believe the mainstream media are credible news sources.  On the Balloon Boy story, Wikipedia editors did not appear to be making their own calls to gather first-hand information, but rather were pulling together pieces of information from a variety of news sources like CNN, the Globe and Mail, The Daily Telegraph and others. 

I would call Wikipedia more of an aggregator in this instance.  In my mind that’s a positive for the reader as it provides a more complete view of the story, drawing from numerous sources rather than relying on one.

As the Balloon Boy story played itself out – from horror to worry to skepticism and cynicism – Wikipedia was tracking it all, building sentence by sentence what would become a detailed entry worthy of an encyclopedia.