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During introductions on the first day of this class, I expressed my hesitance with social media and digital connectedness because I recognized its negative impact. I’d seen friends at dinner checking their BlackBerrys instead of enjoying each other’s company, I’d noticed its affect on me at work when I stared at a screen all day and felt unfulfilled, and I’d even heard it from my mom when she told me she was stressed after joining Facebook because replying to her long lost friends’ messages added more things to her “to do list.” I’m definitely a believer in balancing old tools with the new to “ease the overload” – I still haven’t upgraded my basic flip phone, I keep a daily planner notebook with me at all times, and I print and store all of my photos in albums.

As I read Hamlet’s Blackberry over the Thanksgiving holiday, it was comforting to realize I’m not alone – lots of other really smart people think “being connected to the crowd” 24/7 isn’t the best way to live regardless of the constant new cool new gadgets, apps and sites are introduced. Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book offline (reading has been one of my favorite activities this semester because I cherish every minute I can get away from my computer), I find it ironic that now I have to go back online to blog about why I think spending too much time in front of a screen is unhealthy. BUT I’ll try not to be too bitter :).

The book examines the importance of balancing connectedness by exploring ways in which great philosophers, writers and inventors reacted to the “new technology” of their age, from the written word to the printing press. Each new advancement threw people’s life off balance for a while until they figured out the best way to integrate it while maintaining their overall happiness. An important lesson these great thinkers reminded me of:

Gaps and distance are essential to adding depth in life – the author of this book, William Powers, mentions how he enjoys the involuntary disconnectedness of flying. I couldn’t agree more. Once you get on an airplane, one of the first things you must do is turn off all electronic devices  — finally some time to unwind without feeling guilty that you aren’t responding to someone online  (I think it’s unfortunate that many airlines have wireless internet now). Since I’m pretty terrified of flying, I always take my journal along for the ride to get my mind off the turbulence. During one of my latest flights, I jotted down this thought, “Flying keeps me grounded.” I use the time I’m 30,000 feet in the air to focus inwardly, gain perspective on my life and the important people in it. There is something about writing all my thoughts down with pen and paper and not being able to wordsmith and edit that is exhilarating. I typically end each flight by writing down a few things I want to change or some goals that I want to focus on in the future. It’s my time to reevaluate priorities — somthing that can only occur when I take a break from the constant flow of digital information.

Flying is just one example of how I use distance and gaps to add depth to my life and relationships. With all the information overload you experience day-to-day, it’s important to take breaks from clicking and typing and the crowd that follows you online. It’s so easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing and thinking because it’s easily accessible through social tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.   The result is hours lost in your day that could be spend fostering the meaningful relationships. Life isn’t measured by the number of connections you have on a social network or amount of “likes” or comments you have on an online post (despite what Mark Zuckerberg might think); in the end it’s those deep conversations you have with people and the time spent, between connectedness, reflecting on those human experiences that give you true satisfaction.

That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy learning about all the social media tools this semester and think it’s extremely valuable to understand the purpose of the tools, why people use them, and how they can be used in moderation to enhance your personal and professional life. It’s undeniable that the field social media is fast-paced and changing the way the world works.  I plan to use the valuable takeaways from this class to encourage others to use social media, focusing on quality rather than quantity, to contribute to their overall happiness and success. As this article about the future of social media suggests, we are approaching a saturation point, and now it’s time to figure out the best way to filter through the clutter and help others do the same. This girl is doing a great job of proving the harm of social media and connectedness when taken to the extreme.

The first post I wrote on this blog, I talked about juggling all the different aspects of my life and learning how to use social media to help me do those things more productively. After taking this course, I realize it’s also about when NOT to use social media because it can also cause people to be overwhelmed, scattered and unproductive. Since I spent most of this week at work in front of a computer screen during the day and at home in front of a computer screen working on final assignments for school at night, I am honestly thrilled to have a break from the screen over the holidays. I will enjoy keeping up with the trends in social media through all the RSS feeds I’ve added to my iGoogle page throughout the semester and may start blogging again when I begin Advanced Digital Strategy in January, but until then you can count on me being disconnected – using the gap between semesters to reflect on what I learned.

Photo taken from flickr.com by ztephen used under Creative Commons license

When I found out we’re exploring how social media and other web 2.0 technologies have influenced the War on Terror in class this week and our instructions for this blog post, “to explore the blogosphere of a country that begins with the same letter as your name;” the first country that came to mind was Afghanistan. This country has been on my mind a lot lately because my brother-in-law is deployed there as a medic in the Army. He is looking forward to a brief trip home to the US this month for the birth of his first child — my first niece.

After browsing through the Afghanistan section of Global Voices Online, an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world, this blog caught my eye:

Circling the Lions Den: A Glance at the Conflict in Afghanistan
The blog is written by Nick Fielding, a citizen of the United Kingdom. His passion for Afghanistan began when he visited the country in the 1970s before violence invaded and it became a country at war. Reading about this blog reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Kite Runner. The plot of the book begins during a time of peace and happiness in Afghanistan and it follows two childhood friends through the many tragedies the country has experienced over the last few decades, from the Soviet invasion to the rise of the Taliban regime. I read this book just a few months before my brother-in-law was deployed this summer. The novel helped educate me on the brutal realities of Afghanistan today, painted a moving picture of the country’s tragic history and still somehow told an inspiring and uplifting story that left a glimmer of hope for the future. That’s what it seems like Nick Fielding is aiming to do in his blog.

“I first visited Afghanistan in the 1970s and was entranced by this remarkable country during what proved to be a short period of peace and calm. No matter what has happened since then, I continue to believe that Afghanistan and its people will have a bright and dignified future. This blog aims to highlight issues and information that don’t always make it into the mainstream media.”

In one of his recent posts, “Afghanistan moving in right direction,” he highlights the Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan in 2010: A survey of the Afghan People , which shows an upward trend in the percent of Afghan people who believe the country is moving in the right direction from 2008 to 2010. During one of my sister’s Skype calls with her husband (my brother-in-law), he had to leave the call to treat injured Afghan civilians – it’s soldiers like him that continue to keep that glimmer of hope alive for the Afghan people.

An influential military blog Cathy pointed out in her community snapshot for class, Bouhammer’s Afghanistan and Military Blog, also had some inspiring posts that I enjoyed perusing. One of the pictures of the day was of an Army medic treating the wounds of an Afghan child and Bouhammer shares that one of his sons served as a medic in the Army in his post, “The Military is in my DNA.”

I’ll leave you with my favorite country music tribute to all the soldiers who have fought for our country, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” by Toby Keith.

Our blog topic this week is appropriate for the day – what website are you most thankful for and why? Although I visit a decent amount of websites just about every day including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, CNN and now Twitter thanks to this class, the one that beats them all is WMZQ.com powered by iheartradio.com, the online version of DC’s only country radio station. Yea, I know… shocker.

I remember the first time I heard WMZQ – I was sitting in a hotel room in Fairfax, VA while I was visiting the area for one of my first job interviews. I remember thinking, it’s bad enough that I may have to move north for a job, but I definitely can’t move somewhere that doesn’t have a country radio station. So I started flipping through the stations and came across 98.7 WMZQ. Although I realized it was nothing like where I grew up with at least four country stations to choose from, I was thankful to have one (technically there are two in the DC metro area, but the Fredericksburg station 93.3 WFLS has bad reception in most places).

When I moved to the area, one of the first things I did was program WMZQ into the radio pre-set in my car. And I’ve been listening to the station on my computer at work ever since I found out you can also stream it online. At my current job, I sit alone at my desk for about 80% of the time so online radio really does have a positive impact on my day. I can’t start working without my breakfast bread, coffee and visiting the WMZQ website to listen online. Unfortunately, the best morning show ended about a year after I moved to the area, “Ben and Brian in the Morning.” Ben was my favorite and literally made me laugh out loud regardless as to what kind of day I was having. He ended up moving from the area to be closer to his family, but his legend lives on at YouTube. Here is one of his classic voice impersonation bits that I highly recommend watching – “Feliz Navidad.”

When the “Ben and Brian” show was on air, I kept tuning in online to add humor to my work days, but now the morning radio personality is Boxer. And although he’s definitely not as entertaining as Ben, I still return to WMZQ streaming online everyday for a few reasons: 1) Country music comforts me – it’s a piece of home I can listen to wherever I am 2) It’s interactive – I enjoy the two-way communication between the DJs and the listeners (although I’ve tried calling for many contests and still haven’t won anything yet!) 3) The DJs discuss topics that are important to me – I can hear interviews with my favorite artists, local concert announcements and news from one source. 4) And finally, because it’s convenient and free – if I actually had to buy a radio and bring it to work with me to tune in, I’m not sure I would. But because it’s on my computer and saved to my favorites, it becomes part of my daily routine.

As I sit here at my sister’s house in North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day, I also have to remember what I’m thankful for offline and all the wonderful blessings God has given me today – time with family and our dogs, Cowboys football, lots of great food and the new edition to our family who will be joining us soon; my niece, Savannah Grace. I’m also thankful for my sister’s husband and all of the soldiers overseas who don’t have the day off today. We are hoping to get to speak to him on Skype later today – the website my sister is most thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I have to admit, my favorite part of this week’s blog topic was “Googling” some of the video games of my past to find out what’s out there about them today. If you asked me about 15 years ago “What is social gaming?” I would probably respond by saying something like, “It’s when you go to your friend’s house to race them in Mario Kart.”

One of my first memories of video games was playing Paperboy on the first Nintendo with my sister and yelling at the TV screen at the dog that always ended my paper route (yes, you can still buy it). In fact, I still have my Super Nintendo in my closet and went through a stage after college where I would buy used games from Amazon and invite people over for Nintendo and wine nights J Back in the 90’s, I thought I was pretty cool because I knew the password to skip to “Genie World” in Aladdin — “Genie, Jafar, Aladdin, Abu.” Today, all kids have to do is search online and it comes up on the first page of search results.

In lieu of my country video of the week, I had to bring back Paperboy to prove how much gaming has changed since then (whoever created this YouTube video was a pro compared to me and figured out how to dodge the dog).

Back then, I would have laughed if you said that FedEx and UPS were battling it out for advertising sponsorships on Paperboy, but today many big advertisers are doing just that. They are using games to build their brands in virtual worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and the many games for XBOX.  

According to our guest speaker this semester, Michael Slaby, former CTO of the Obama campaign, once all the traditional media space was taken the days leading up to the election, the Obama campaign team purchased advertising for XBOX games. Some examples of corporate use: Toyota used an online game to introduce a new car model, Coke sponsored a concert that took place in the Second Life virtual world and T-Mobile built a party island for Second Life “residents” to explore. If I ever spent time on Second Life, I’d rather check out Dry Gulch Saloon, a popular country music spot destination complete with themed events, line dancing, DJ performances, bull-riding, and other Western-themed fun. I wonder if CMT or popular country singers have ever thought to add that to their marketing mix…

According to the interesting podcast about the Business Week cover story: “Virtual World, Real Money,” you can actually make a decent living developing and selling virtual property online and converting virtual bucks into real money in your pockets. Similarly, businesses have also used virtual worlds to design and test out products, saving significant amounts in research and development costs before bringing their product to the real world.

Bottom line: social gaming today isn’t your typical paper route. Many games and/or virtual worlds have complex storylines and are extremely influential within their community of dedicated users. If Paperboy was a social game today, I would definitely have the ability to install invisible fences in the yards to keep the dogs away from my bike. How would you change your favorite games from the 80’s and 90’s using the technology of today?

In class last week we discussed Wikipedia as a news source and examined the 2005 London Bombings as an example of just how timely the site is when breaking news is unraveling. So while I took some of the tutorials in preparation for our Wikipedia assignment this week, I was somewhat surprised to see “journalism” under the list of what Wikipedia is NOT. Here’s what Wikipedia says about journalism under the “Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought” header:

“Journalism. Wikipedia should not offer first-hand news reports on breaking stories. Wikipedia is not a primary source. However, our sister projects Wikisource and Wikinews do exactly that, and are intended to be primary sources. Wikipedia does have many encyclopedia articles on topics of historical significance that are currently in the news, and can be updated with recently verified information.”

Wikipedia may not WANT to be a place for breaking stories, but its contributors certainly do “Walk the Line” of journalism. If you examine the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s infamous song from the perspective of the Wikipedia community, it certainly could be a love song to the Wikipedia site. After all, Wikipedia is created, owned and operated by a community of volunteers – many whom are extremely passionate and dedicated to the collaboration project.

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” – Johnny Cash

Verifiability is another core principle of Wikipedia which in many ways relates to Wikipedia’s “no original research” principle. Wikipedia guidelines request that contributors always cite reliable sources that support material clearly and directly. In the example of the 2005 London Bombings, the original creator of the article posted the first version just 20 minutes after the first bombs exploded. The original article includes one external link a BBC article which must have been published or expanded after the Wikipedia post since it includes quotes from observers. This first version and many of the edits to follow are examples of episodic media – short and quick updates that tell you every development without providing a larger context. Other examples of episodic media include: Twitter, CNN’s homepage and I guess you could consider Facebook status updates episodic “news” as well.

The interesting thing about Wikipedia is that for current news articles, it’s a evolution from episodic to systematic media – longer comprehensive text that paints the big picture such as books and magazines articles. Many Wikipedia articles originate through episodic updates and “end up” as some of the most comprehensive articles about a topic you can find anywhere in the world. Some additional examples of this episodic to systematic evolution include 2010 articles on the cargo plane bomb plot, the BP Oil Spill, and the blizzard we all endured last February. Each of these articles began as a couple of sentences that were proven to be somewhat inaccurate, but developed into a relatively accurate and comprehensive account of a historical event – content that is extremely valuable to someone who is interested in learning more about a topic. You can view the evolution of each article by clicking the “view history” tab and navigating from the earliest to the most recent version. Although I may turn to traditional news media such as CNN for episodic updates on breaking news, I think I’ll check out Wikipedia next time to see which media outlet publishes the news first — I have an inclination that it will be a tight race.

The Wikipedia community definitely walks the line with many of the Wikipedia core policies including journalism, but keep in mind that “Wikipedia does not have firm rules” is also one of the company’s five pillars. I think this evaluation of Wikipedia as a news source validates some points in my previous Wikipedia post about how timeliness and convenience can outweigh the importance of 100% accuracy that published encyclopedias and traditional news media strive to reach.

In an effort to determine what’s more trustworthy, Wikipedia or a published Encyclopedia, I took a trip down the street to the library to see what a printed encyclopedia looks like these days. It’s been a while since I’ve opened one – if I had to guess, it would probably be before the Christmas of 1995. That was the year my dad bought us a Gateway 2000, my first home computer. Here is a pretty humorous excerpt from my journal that year:

“Two days ago was Christmas. I got a cd player, the game Catch Phrase, hair bows, 11 cds, a game for our Super Nintendo, a game for my Gameboy, skates, a Duke charm, BUT the best thing I got was a computer. It’s a Gateway 2000. It’s awesome — it’s got a cd roma.”

OK, I’ll spare you anymore of the details. After that Christmas, I used Microsoft Encarta because that was one of the CDs that was included with my super cool first computer, which has since been discontinued. My neighborhood friends and I had a blast exploring my new computer during the blizzard of 1996 and listening to Gangster’s Paradise on repeat.

If you haven’t noticed yet, just about everything I’ve written about so far has an article in Wikipedia which appears on the first page of search results when you Google it. Wikipedia has the long tail of encyclopedia articles covered and the tail is continuing to lengthen as I type.

According to Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, Britannica (the most renowned published encyclopedia) had approximately 80,000 articles in 2005 and Wikipedia had approximately 500,000 (1.3 million if you include other languages). And now, according to the Wikipedia website, there are now more than 3 million articles. So it’s no surprise that Wikipedia wins the numbers game because “instead of one really smart guy, it pulls from thousands of fairly smart people.”

But, the question of the week is “Who should be considered more trustworthy?” I’ll give that honor to published encyclopedias such as Britannica. After all, their standards are higher for whom they accept as contributors to their published work. An accuracy study by Nature confirmed this: after experts reviewed a wide-range of topics, they claimed that Britannica had 2.92 average mistakes compared to Wikipedia’s 3.86. Even though that may not seem too significant, I think Wikipedia should take a stance to improve its reputation for accuracy. As  Aaron Tippin reminded us in the 90’s, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

Wikipedia stands for two core principles: neutrality and good faith, but I think they should have at least one more: accountability. They should ban anonymous contributors and require that everyone registers with the site before they are allowed to make edits. New registrants should be verified by the Wikipedia administrators, or those higher on the Wikipedia power pyramid, before they are allowed to join the community and actively participate in the Wikipedia project. Given that many trolls and vandals are anonymous editors that are difficult to track down, like the one who damaged John Seigenthaler’s reputation, I don’t think the community would be too sad to see them go.

In my opinion, the more relevant question in today’s society is the one in the title of this post. What’s more important the WIKI (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) or the PEDIA (from Greek word “”paideia” meaning “education, rearing of a child”)? In other words, is it more important that the information is available quickly and conveniently or that it is provided and verified by experts in the field?

During my journey to the public library, I looked up the word “encyclopedia” in the Encyclopedia Britannica 2010 and was somewhat surprised at what I saw.

“An encyclopedia is a self-contained reference work with two main aims: to include up-to-date knowledge about a particular discipline or group of disciplines and to make this knowledge conveniently accessible.”

Even the published Encyclopedia Britannica helps validate my point! I’m not trying to demean the importance of education and expertise (I am writing this blog as part of my master’s program) but I think the WIKI wins.

With midterm elections right around the corner, I’m taking a closer look at what makes a successful political campaign in the 21st century. My Social Media professor, Garrett Graff, wrote the book The First Campaign in which he explores the days leading up to what he suggests was the first campaign of the 21st century – the 2008 election and more specifically, President Obama’s famous web 2.0 deployment. As a former communications staffer for the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, Graff had a first-hand experience watching technology transform the old rules of campaigning. Dean used the internet to drive a “people-powered campaign-funding operation” of small-dollar fundraising, blogged, and maximized the social networking site Meetup.com as a way to rally his community of supporters across the nation. So why didn’t Dean win the 2004 nomination?

A big difference between the Dean and Obama campaign: an effective tool. According to Graff’s follow-up article on the Barack Obama campaign in Infonomics magazine, the Dean campaign only ran two websites (the official one and his blog) and the Obama campaign ran 100+ websites including social media sites such as MySpace and Twitter. And possibly equally as important, the Dean campaign had a half a dozen different databases to manage whereas the Obama campaign invested in building the most powerful campaigning database of its time – Obama’s Voter Action Network (VAN). This one database powered all of MyBO.com (the center of all of Obama’s outreach efforts) which housed more than two million robust profiles and integrated social networking sites and mobile numbers. The information was used to micro-target voters based on metrics such as when people opened emails, donation amounts and likeliness to host house parties. And Obama didn’t just target mainstream social networks; he was the first candidate to reach niche social networks such as AsianAve.com, MiGente.com and BlackPlanet.com (influential with the Asian, Hispanic and African-American communities). I can’t even begin to go into detail on lessons learned from Obama’s campaign, so I’ll just direct you to Edelman’s Obama Social Toolkit for more information.

I’ve attempted to consolidate databases at my company by implementing LyrisHQ, an online marketing platform that integrates email marketing, deliverability, web analytics, search marketing, content management and mobile. Unfortunately, I don’t have the staff and resources of the Obama campaign, but I do recognize the power of profile segmentation.

A blog post I read on PR Breakfast Club discusses the simple analogy between social tools and a hammer. If you use them the right way, they can help you multiply the force of impact. But if you miss the target, you’ll just end up with a sore thumb. A quote from Graff’s Obama article expands on this analogy:

“The Obama campaign made the greatest investment in this civic structure,” says organizing guru Marshall Ganz, who worked with the campaign. “It’s very important to distinguish between carpenters and tools. The investment in this campaign of creating skilled carpenters was what enabled them to use the tools as well as they did.” 

And as Alan Jackson says, “There’s nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer.”

One  important lesson I was reminded of in my sales training last week at work — the best sales people seek to understand before they are understood. Obama did just that to sell himself to the American people and build an empire of advocates. Two years later, how do you think he has done with retaining them?

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