Get lots of followers on Twitter?

Many times every day I receive tweets from people saying ‘get hundreds’ or ‘get thousands’ of followers on Twitter.  And every time I wonder what their frantic getting of followers really gets them?

It also gets me thinking about the nature of social media and social networks.  What are they for?  Even more, who are they for?

Are they just a place to aggregate all the consumers to facilitate better focused corporate marketing? That does seem to be the attitude of the many people who exhort me to ‘click here to get lots of followers’ and the like.

The other thing that happens a lot is people challenging me to show ‘the power of my network’ by asking followers to do something (usually sign up for a conference or something).

I hate this approach to social networks. To me they are community gathering places not centres of commerce.  Sure asking people to take social or charitable action fits in.  But commercial exercises feel very unnatural.

No.-27-Scenes-From-The-Life-Of-Christ-11.-Expulsion-Of-The-Money-Changers-From-The-Temple-1304It feels like it is almost time to throw the ‘money changers’ out of our social networks.  Is commerce the only truly valuable thing we can do with social networks?  How can we fund social networks so that ‘commercialisation’ issues are not a problem?

The power of social networks to do good and to create community is immense – just look at the conference tweeting, social and political activism. Twitter has enabled ordinary people to harness the power of network amplification in previously impossible ways.

The old next big thing

I can recall when both Twitter & Friendfeed were talked about as the next big thing. But that was a long time in the distant past (almost 12 months ago) and an aeon in internet terms.

Thomas Hawk shared an interesting chart showing the growth of these two products over the past 12 months.

friendfeed.com v. twitter.com

It is interesting to ponder why one is taking off and the other is languishing. Friendfeed seems easier to use and allows richer interaction. While Twitter is fairly primitive to interact with and all the funkiness is provided by other applications.

This last seems significant. Twitter just offers a basic web interface and users are free to write their own or use other people’s applications to create a richer experience. Even the #hashtag in Twitter was invented and adopted by the users almost in spite of Twitter. And this has enabled search to become a key Twitter feature – check out the cool search stuff that PeopleBrowsr does with Twitter to get an idea of the possibilities.

And it is this phenomenon that encapsulates the trend for the web. Grass roots co-option of applications and platforms. We’re on the cusp of something big and the platform doesn’t really matter anymore. Twitter, Friendfeed and their fellow travelers are all ephemeral. The new next big thing will come along soon.

What will remain is the grassroots empowerment of users to co-opt the technology and to use it in unexpected ways.

Jambo to Action Aid Tanzania

Over the years I’ve  been conscious that much of the information we get about Africa is mediated by Western voices.  But here is an initiative that let’s us hear voices from on the ground.  In this case it is the folks from Action Aid in Tanzania, who’ve started a new blog called Jambo Tanzania.

It’s always nice to check out a blog whose first post starts:

To all peace loving people we welcome you to our blog in pursuit of a better world.

Rose Mushi, Albert Jimwaga & Abdul Kajumulo have bravely stepped out & are sharing ideas and experiences on their new blog.

Another thing that Action Aid are fund raising for is their new blog outreach program. The program started in Tanzania last week and this is a great initiative by an Australian NGO using social media to reach out.

Check out the details here & support this innovative initiative that will give a voice to real people who are working to solve real problems.

Bushfire evacuation madness

I have been watching the Victorian Royal Commission into the tragic bushfires earlier in 2009 with great interest.  Probably with more interest than the average observer since I live in a wooden house in a very small suburb surrounded by bushland national parks.

A recent article notes the potential role for social networking like Facebook, Twitter in new bushfire policy. This is an interesting move. It would definitely enable ordinary people to obtain up-to-date & relevant information more easily.

But the real thrust of this article is that the government wants people to leave early. This is a very hard thing to know.

One of the most prominent things in my memory of living through a large and dangerous bushfire is how little information is available. Nobody can tell you where the fire is coming from or where is likely to go. Once during the bushfires of 2002 we even had a Sydney suburban fire truck pull up at our house to ask where the fire was. Up until now even the fire fighting authorities have not had access to good information.

When do you go & how do you know when to leave? Example, a few years ago on a very hot summer day four friends visited my house for a BBQ . As our lunch progressed the temperature soared to about 40 degrees C. At about 3pm our friends decided to leave and jumped into the their cars for the 40 minute trip back to Sydney.

Just after we had tidied up we received a phone call from one of our friends – they were stuck in a major traffic jam on the F3 (the major road from the north into Sydney) due to a bushfire a few suburbs away. We had not even known that there was a large bushfire burning only 10 minutes drive away from our house.

That traffic jam lasted for about four hours until the fire was controlled sufficiently for our friends and the other motorists to drive through.

The other experience we had was during the 2002 fires when our town was cut off by bushfires for three days without power (so no radio, phone, etc.) and by the time we found out about the fire it had already cut off the roads and we could not leave.

Based on my experience bushfire evacuations have the following issues that need to be overcome:

1) it is hard to know when it is time to evacuate
2) it is hard to know if it is safe to evacuate in a particular direction
3) it is hard to know if there is a fire threatening your area
4) nobody knows what is going on & there is no single authoritative and up-to-date source of information
5) once the power goes out all the other issues are multiplied significantly

Based on the Victorian experience it looks to me like some kind of community refuge is imperative for our town. I will definitely be discussing it with our neighbours.

Here is a real school in need

In real contrast to my old high school (as discussed in yesterday’s post) here is a school that really needs donations.

Kilimani village secretary Juma Hassan lila Kalibu shows off the new computer room at their school
Kilimani village secretary Juma Hassan lila Kalibu shows off the new computer room at their school

As my friend Stilgherrian describes: “This is Juma Hassan lila Kalibu, secretary of Kilimani village in Zanzibar, showing off the village school’s new computer room. As you can see, it has no computers. Or electricity. Or desks. Or chairs. Or anything, really.”

Unlike my old school (which has excellent computer facilities, swimming pool, etc.) here is a school that does not even have the basics.

One of the big drivers in improving living conditions across an entire society is education.  Basic literacy is one of the foundations of a civil society, and technology is a key enabler of innovation.

It would be great to see all schools with access to technology together with basic literacy tools.

Check out the Action Aid website for ways to help.