Fresh looks at social media as a 2011 gamechanger

Two fresh looks at the effects, in 2011, of social media on the world.

The first, a talk from my friend Ethan Zuckerman at the University of British Columbia:

I’ve tapped out–imperfectly–a few excerpts for those of you who don’t watch videos:

In reference to how the ‘Arab Spring’ began:

Thinking about social media by itself simply as a way to get information out there is probably inadequate … We have to start thinking about the ecosystem.  We have to start thinking about this idea that what participatory media does is make it possible for people to create media at very low cost, and then if they’re able to use that complicated network, it’s possible–sometimes and not always–to get that media out and get it amplified to the point where it reaches enough people that you’re able to have a coordinating function, where people in Tunisia are able to say ‘We’ve never seen this before.  We’ve seen protests, but not like this.  The fact that it’s spreading from one town to another is unprecedented and that’s something I want to be a part of’  That’s how it moves, from involving a small number of people in a town to being capable of taking down a government.  So if that story’s true–I believe it is, and it’s worth taking a close look at–it’s a way of explaining what is a really tough mystery–how something leaves a small town and reaches the world–we have to ask the question: ‘Is there something special about Facebook?’

On the purpose of social media:

The purpose of Web 2.0 is to share cute pictures of kitty-cats. And I say that, and you think I’m joking, but I’m not. It’s not epiphenomenal that the video of the cat flushing the toilet goes out on YouTube and everyone is laughing at it…that’s the point of Web 2.0.

And, in reference to the Malaysian online public sphere:

…The same tools that are helping other people share cute photos of cats are finding these people a way to have a digital public sphere…not the kind of space they can have in the real world, which is too dangerous…but online, there was a capability to carve out a space for free speech.

And finally, and this is key:

“[Some of the tools, like Tor, being built by experts are utterly essential but] I worry that we don’t take these ‘cute cat tools’ seriously enough. These tools that anyone can use, that are used 99% of the time for completely banal purposes, purposes that you and I may find incredibly boring unless it’s the exact interest we care about. There are some reasons why these ‘cute cat tools’–like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, any tool that allows people to create and share original content and have many millions of users–are important…

…When the assumption is that you just want to get cute cat pictures, you spend a lot of time making these tools very usable…which results in these tools being usable even if you don’t speak the language, even if you’re not the intended audience. And because these tools are used by hundreds of millions of people, there’s a good chance that when someone gets involved in activism, these are the tools they’ll use.

The second, an article from Forbes on how Twitter specifically affected corporate decisions in 2011. An excerpt:

It started last year, when Gap proposed a new logo that was universally derided on Twitter, Tumblr and more. Gap’s new logo, which featured a white background and a small blue square, was mocked and parodied on all forms of social media, prompting campaigns to restore the original logo. Within a week of introducing the new logo design, the company had returned to its traditional blue and white square. It set the tone for a 2011 full of company reversals, spurred by vocal online backlash.

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