I’ve learned a lot over the course of the semester about the web, technology and perhaps most importantly the audiences that use them. And overall I feel like I have a much greater grasp and understanding of social media. But I cannot tell you what the key to the 2012 election will be. If I knew that, I’d be selling my consulting services to the candidate of my choosing.

However, one thing is clear; campaigning as we used to know it is over. President Obama and his team, coupled with major technology advancements completely changed the way we run elections.

I think in 2012, we’ll see a lot of the strategies and tools used by the Obama campaign implemented by all candidates. But the key will not just be to apply a “copy and paste” approach but rather take the lessons learned and apply them appropriately for reaching his or her base.

What the Obama team did so well was know its tools, staff and audience. They hired the people who worked at and founded the social media sites they were using, they picked the right sites and the right approach and perhaps most important they had a candidate who himself understood technology and loved it. The integration was seamless and everyone was supportive of the decision to use technology as the backbone of the campaign. The next candidates will have to do the same thing.

However, in the year and a half since President Obama was elected, technology has changed vastly. Yes, Facebook and MySpace are still relevant but the users have increased. Twitter is much more popular and there has been an increase in the number of new location-based sites like Foursquare.

The next campaigns need to begin emerging themselves in each of these technologies and have a clear understanding of how they could use them to reach and mobilize their target voters. They will need to integrate both online and offline technologies mixed with traditional strategies and have a staff and candidate who understand the purpose and value of these technologies. And more importantly they need to be authentic in their efforts.

There are many sides to fighting a war in a web 2.0 world: journalism, U.S. military strategy, solider and citizen accounts and our enemies. It can and has been debated that the inside look and access the web has given the world to wars has had both positive and negative effects. On one hand it has exposed more people to the dangers of war but on the other hand it can serve as a great security risk to the men and women serving. On one hand the footage is raw and shows what really happens but on the other hand is it too graphic for people to see? Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan these issues have been debated. However, I would argue that the positives outnumber the negatives.

First there is the journalism aspect of looking at war in a web 2.0 world. The power of user-generated content, the rise of blogging and outlets such as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and WordPress has removed newsrooms and therefore editors from the reporting aspect of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It has opened the world’s eyes to the tragic realities of the wars that may not have ever been known if content was subject to editorial board approval. And with the authors of this content ranging from reporters, to citizens to the actual service members, it has made “the truth of war” easier for people to see.

Second, with the rise of milbloggers, more service members are able to communicate back home and have an outlet to release from the stress of the combat zone. Letters and packages which go through traditional mail services can take weeks to clear through security and be delivered. The immediacy of the internet provides families with a timely understanding of how their loved ones are safe. To have the tools and ability to share this positive information and to connect families who are separated for months at a time, I think is an incredible benefit to our service members and their families.

But I also see the point that the military is concerned with – safety. There are many top secret aspects of being at war that the military is concerned about keeping private. It is understandable that they are worried service members communicating so frequently and in so many formats could compromise safety but for the most part the service members aren’t using blogs and other social media in that fashion. Personally I believe the crackdown on blogging was a bit of an overreaction.

However, the one point I strongly dislike about the online globalization of war is that the same benefits we (the U.S. citizens, government and military) enjoy, so do our enemies. Terrorists and other foreign governments and militaries have the same tools at their disposal and can and do use them in a variety of ways against us. Since September 11 we have seen an increase in videos from Taliban leaders denouncing the western world. This has been a big marketing tool for encouraging and signing up young supporters.

But, as we’ve talked about since the first day of class, web 2.0 is available across the globe and with the exception of censorship from some governments it is available to the masses to use as they want. So this means we have to take the good with the bad. And again, I think the positives in this scenario well outweigh the negatives.

One of the reasons Apple and its products have been so successful over the past few years has been the App store. Or, more specifically the company allowing others to develop apps and if approved by Apple, sell them in the App store. But in December, Apple rejected an application by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore.

Fiore developed an app that would allow his cartoons to be viewed on Apple products. But, according to a recent Boston Globe article, Apple chose not to reject Fiore’s request. Apple cited a cartoon depicting President Obama and the Salahi’s as one example.

Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.

However, I think Apple’s “rationale” doesn’t add up, instead it just seems like censorship. Political cartoons are by definition satire and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Saying that it is “objectionable” because of one or a few cartoons that are by definition supposed to bring about discussion, seems like overkill.

Additionally, it isn’t a requirement of Apple users to purchase this app. All Apple users could choose to download it and be exposed to the cartoons or simply ignore it. People who are interested in Fiore’s cartoons will be most likely to purchase his app, understanding its satire and limiting any potential offense.

Also, this decision is completely inconsistent with the rest of Apple content and its apps. There is an app for every major newspaper in America and many abroad. This includes USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Each of these newspapers has an editorial and cartoon section. The app doesn’t censor that content so why this app, which is dedicated entirely to political cartoons, being targeted?

However my favorite part of this story is that Apple specifically mentions the Salahi cartoon as an example. When they crashed the White House State dinner they were all over the news, late night talk shows and yes, political cartoons. In the days and weeks following the White House State Dinner the Salahi’s were punch lines to jokes and were depicted in a variety of “objectionable” forms. Many of which were available through apps.

Saturday Night Live did a very popular skit on the crashers that was available for viewing through the SNL app on Apple products. So while I respect Apple’s right to choose the content for its products it needs to be more consistent if it wants to remain credible.

Yup, that was the scene on Saturday, April 10 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, home to James Madison University, my alma mater. For those who haven’t heard, an estimated 8,000 “students” (we’ll get to that in a second) participated in a party in the neighborhood of Forrest Hills (off-campus townhomes mostly rented by JMU students) for “Springfest,” a non-University sanctioned party.

State police and more than 200 police officers from the surrounding area were called by the Harrisonburg police to help disperse the crowd. Beer bottles were thrown. Dumpsters were set on fire. Helicopters flew overhead. Rubber bullets were fired. And tear gas was sprayed.

The party/riot made CNN.

There has been a lot of debate and “blame game” in the days since the event. Were the attendees out of control and to blame? Did the police over react and make matters worse? But the truth is this is an event that has happened every year for as long as most residents, university officials, alumni and police can remember. And with one exception (2000) the event has never escalated to what police are calling civil disobedience.

So what was so different this year? Why in 2010 did 8,000 people show up instead of the usual 1,000? Well, in a word technology. Technology played a major role in the size and publicity of this party – before, during and after. When I was a student the event (then called alumni weekend) happened every April. Students knew about it, some alumni knew about it and yes word would get around town. It was a good-old-fashion word-of-mouth party and that was that.

But now, there are Facebook events, Twitter postings, message boards, text messages and a lot more ways for communication and a “viral” effect to announce the party. Harrisonburg locals and students from other Virginia schools including Radford, Richmond, George Mason, UVA and Virginia Tech were all there. A family-friend and JMU senior, Katie said early in the day when she was at the party things were fine and then “uninvited’ came, doubling the number of people there.

Groups of people would just show up in the neighborhood ready to party. When asked who they knew that lived in the row of houses they responded no one. When asked why they were there they said for the party. And when asked how they knew about it – Facebook or other social media channels.

Another way technology was a part of this event was through the University. At 6p.m. JMU students were sent a text message from the University’s emergency communications system (put into place after the Virginia Tech shootings). The message said:

“Non-Residents of Village Lane to disperse from social events in that area immediately for safety reasons.”

A great idea by the University, but if half or more of the people at the party aren’t JMU students, they’re not going to get the message. Some students say they didn’t get the text until well after police had arrived. And others say the text just riled the drunk crowd up even more.

Many JMU students are mad and are pointing to the thousands of non-JMU students as part of (or all of) the blame. But now in the aftermath the headlines of the many, many, many news stories aren’t about the other schools, they’re about JMU. This event will forever be associated with JMU and will at least for the time being damage the university and its students’ reputations. YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia will make sure of that. And that’s a shame because for so long JMU had a great reputation as being an excellent academic institution with polite and friendly students.

In the end though, can anyone really blame technology for this party and its outcome or do we need to look at the students and police?

Sometimes it is easy as Americans to get wrapped up in what is happening in our country. We often only read U.S.-based media with the occasional exception – and even then it is usually London-based; so really itmay as well be American. We tend to think the same thing for nontraditional and social media, including blogs. But the truth is the internet and each of its tools are global.

Image from Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So I was really interested to explore Global Voices, an online community of bloggers from across the world. The site itself is a fantastic resource and study in community. It brings together the most popular blogs, podcasts and others from across the world and a group of volunteers working to translate the sites for a wider audience.

For this week’s assignment, we were asked to explore a country beginning with the first letter of our names. For me, the options were: Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Luthania and Luxembourg. While reviewing these individual pages I was a bit surprised with how few posts there were. For most of the countries only one or two posts were included every month or two. This being the first time I’ve used Global Voices I wasn’t sure if this had to do with low activity in these countries or a limited number of volunteers able to complete translations and/or identify the sites.

To dig deeper, I chose Lebanon because it appeared to have the most activity and because I was curious about blogging activity in the Middle East. Since February there has only been five articles but I was quiet impressed with the variety of topics covered. Being in the Middle East, I expected the majority of articles to relate to religious conflicts. Instead what I found was mostly about technology, media and access.

In February, Lebanese blogger Mustapha (Beirut Spring) launched a campaign to have the Daily Star’s website updated. His goal was to fix the look of the site and therefore drive more traffic to the informative site. In March, to mark the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, a Lebanese blogger addressed the issue of censorship without incident much like others across the globe. However, an April post shows that an investigation was launched into blogger Khodor Salameh’s post (note not translated) criticizing the Lebanese president. The Lebanese government, which had been known for its lack of censorship, was now being criticized by other bloggers for this investigation.

The most recent post on April 3 addressed AbraNet 2010, a technology conference to discuss technology and internet trends among leaders from a variety of Arab countries and industries. However, the conference faced a lot of backlash from attendees and bloggers because the conference, while held in Lebanon, was conducted in English.

Overall I was impressed with the quality of blogging in Lebanon but was definitely and pleasantly surprised on the topic choices of the bloggers. It was also interesting to see how a country in the Middle East handles and responds to censorship on the internet.

Last week I tackled the issue of Wikipedia vs. traditional encyclopedias and came to the conclusion that while Wikipedia is a fantastic resource (that I personally use daily), it could not be 100% trusted to provide factual information. However, after doing more research and discussing Wikipedia in class, I have started to change my mind about its benefits.

Now that I have a better understanding of the community behind the organization and its pages, I feel I can look at it as a much more credible source. There are people around the world who dedicate an insane amount of time to make sure that Wikipedia pages are current, relevant and as detailed and accurate as possible. These contributors, who serve as the backbone of the Wikipedia community, take the project seriously. And while there are some spammers who try to liter the site, the other one-or-two time contributors also do so to make a page better.

More impressive though, was when we discussed Wikipedia as an up-to-the-minute news source. While looking at the pages for the 2005 London Bombings and the 2010 Moscow Metro Bombings I was impressed not just with how detailed and factual the pages currently are but also how quickly the pages were created and how frequently they were updated.

Prior to our conversation I had never once thought of Wikipedia as a breaking news source. Traditionally, I would watch the news for information about breaking news. I remember clearly when the Virginia Tech Shootings occurred, I watched CNN, checked the Roanoke Times and talked to friends who were alumni. But apparently, I was missing a major resource for information.

Now, for each of these major events all of the information on Wikipedia was not entirely factual, but then neither was what the mainstream media was reporting. During major world events the information ebbs-and-flows in, leaving a lot of time for speculation. That is true for both the mainstream media and Wikipedia. But in many instances there are times when mainstream media does not have access to the story but citizens do, creating citizen journalists.

Ultimately, I think there is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia as a breaking news resource. But, people do still need to realize that what is written one minute as fact could be edited in the next minute as more information is known. The next time there is breaking news, I’m going to check the Wikipedia page.

‘Cause down the shore everything’s all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
You know all my dreams come true
When I’m walking down the street with you

–          Tom Waits

On the first day of class my New Jersey loyalty was called into question because I mentioned that I had never watched a minute of Jersey Shore. Well the season is over and I’m more confident than ever that I made the right decision. I mean half of them weren’t actually even Italian. And now it’s been announced the next season will take place in Miami, which just helps prove my point all along – it’s not a good representation of where I grew up.

But don’t let my hate of the MTV show make you think I’m not a proud New Jerseyan.  I grew up going to the shore, walking along the board walk, eating the best pizza and collecting seashells. As Tom Waits sang (and later Springsteen and Bon Jovi), “down the shore everything’s all right.”

And it wasn’t just the Shore that made growing up in New Jersey great. It was the diversity I was surrounded by – various religions, races, economic backgrounds, languages and more. I grew up going to Yankees games, Giants games, Broadway shows and some of the best museums in the country.

And then there’s the music. There’s Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, the Four Seasons, Lauryn Hill and yes, even the Jonas Brothers. Plus tons more and the aforementioned Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

Pff, and you guys thought I wasn't Jersey-enough

In fact, on Monday I channeled by inner-Jersey and took part in one of the greatest New Jersey pastimes – the Bon Jovi concert. Yup, that’s a stereotype I will proudly prove, Jersey Girls love Bon Jovi.

We love them so much we make iTunes playlists to listen to the days before the concert and make our own t-shirts to wear to the concert. We sang and fist pumped along to every song and made friends with the other fans around us. They played for more than two hours – the classics, the new stuff and a few covers. If you’ve never been to a Bon Jovi concert, take it from this Jersey girl, it’s a good time. Here’s a little preview:

When I first learned of Wikipedia, I thought it was a joke. Why would anyone trust a user-generated site to provide timely and accurate information? Call me a cynic, but I just didn’t trust people enough. I wasn’t sure people would use it correctly. I thought there would be vandalism and inaccurate information and I didn’t trust its users to take the “project” seriously. More than anything else, I thought there were better places to get trusted information.

I couldn’t see the value of, for example, checking Wikipedia to get the biography of a Member of Congress. Surely the Member’s Web site would have the most accurate information. The truth of course is Members rarely update their bios, they limit the information to only what they want their constituents to see, are filled with typos and may not have the information you are searching for. The same is true for companies and other famous people. However, I still trusted those “official” pages and the news more than Wikipedia.

But soon Wikipedia became a household name, grew in size (now more than 3 million English-language articles) and credibility, it was hard to deny the amazing benefits of the site. As long as I tried to resist it seemed like overnight there was an article for literally, everything. Slowly the pages were more detailed, were (often but not always) unbiased and incredibly timely.

Today, I use Wikipedia on average once a day. I use it for work, for school and for personal research. But should it be a trusted news source more so than a traditional published encyclopedia? I say no. Instead, I try to use Wikipedia as a starting place for information and a resource to find additional, credible sources, specifically through the citations and links included on each page.

I do not trust Wikipedia, its pages and its volunteers to provide me with 100 percent fact. There are constantly cases of mistakes (sometimes damaging) and vandalism (though that one I found funny in real-time). And while these may be exceptions rather than the rule, I cannot be certain that the next item I look up on Wikipedia isn’t the next error filled entry.

Maybe it is because I grew up using Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica, but I am much more trusting of these published works because there is a clear line of who is responsible and held accountable. They operate as businesses not as foundations and have staffs of highly trained experts in a variety of fields, not just anyone with access to the internet. To me this business structure adds to its accountability and credibility, forcing it to be the best source for information.

That being said, there is no denying the benefit Wikipedia’s timeliness has over Britannica and others. Britannica is trying to make a dent in Wikipedia’s lead with its online version which can hopefully grow in its users. But its not likely its paid-subscription model will topple Wikipedia’s free site. Fortunately for the encyclopedia industry, the education community has been slow to embrace Wikipedia.

So while Wikipedia has the market share, loyalty and trust of its users, and is working to increase its reliability I do not think it should be trusted more than a published encyclopedia. It is simply (at this point) a great online resource as a starting place to find information.

Growing up we had the original Nintendo and Game Boy but they were my brothers’ so I rarely played them, opting instead to play board games like Monopoly. In high school and in college I was familiar with Yahoo! Games and would frequently play Literati, Text Twist and still Monopoly (now online). While I knew there were chat and other interactive features unless I knew the person I was playing with, I wouldn’t participate. And during college I of course had heard of Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft and while I had never played them I certainly had watched my guy friends play a few times.

So when we were asked to read about the world of online gaming and play some ourselves I thought I had a fairly good understanding of that world. That was until I actually began reading about and researching the online gaming community.

Overwhelmed during my research, I happened to mention my assignment to my neighbor Mike (a good friend for more than two years who I thought I knew well). I quickly learned that Mike was formerly part of this huge online community. In fact, he met one of his best friends while playing Quake in 1997. They played online, met up and became friends, eventually starting two dot com businesses together. And, in 2002 when Andy got married, Mike was in the wedding.

Armed with the knowledge that I had a real-life (though retired) gamer at my disposal, I had Mike teach me more about the massive world of gaming. I set up my Second Life account and honestly, I didn’t get it. I explored the site for some time and anytime an avatar would approach mine and start talking to me I would run away. Blame my mother, she taught me not to talk to strangers. I guess I would just rather spend the time on my real life than a second one.

I then set up my World of Warcraft account. This one I was more excited to try – it seemed to have more of an end goal and purpose and was a bit more competitive. But, I had technical difficulties and couldn’t get it to work. So instead I just watched the South Park episode that parodied the game.

Finally, I downloaded the America’s Army 3 game. Again, this type of game seems to have more of a purpose and I understand the benefits of using it and other simulation games as a training tool for our armed forces. I think it is a smart way to train soldiers and prepare them for war without the dangers.

My experiences gaming were interesting. I see how the industry can be so large and lucrative and I do not blame companies for trying to capitalize on the trend by both creating new games and advertising in existing games. It is just not an industry that I am going to start participating in. I think Wii is about as high-tech as I want to get.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. – Pablo Picasso

If Picasso were alive today, he may want to adjust his quote. This week the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York announced its latest acquisition to the famed museum’s collection –@. Read Write Web contributor Marshall Kilpatrick, in his blog posting @ Symbol Acquired by Museum of Modern Art today discussed the addition.

Kilpatrick focuses on @ as part of “a larger battle over identity on the internet.” Stating that the symbol is part of the overall battle to control each individual’s identity, citing its use for both Twitter and email accounts. For him the announcement served as an opportunity to discuss a Web-based battle.

But I look at the announcement more as a story of how the internet revolution and cultural nuisances have become a part of our everyday lives and has done so with such impact and force that the art community had to pay attention. It began with phrases such as “LOL” and “BRB” being used as part of the everyday vernacular and quickly expanded to much more. Computers and technology are such important parts of our everyday lives that yes, they have received recognition by other museums but typically they’ve been technology focused like the Computer History Museum in California.

MoMA explains its acquisition as being more than just about the modern uses of the symbol but also looking at its deep history. MoMA “has always celebrated elegance, economy, intellectual transparency, and a sense of the possible future directions that are embedded in the arts of our time, the essence of modern,” says Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design.

MoMA has long been my personal favorite museum in the U.S. Growing up I would frequent the museum on school trips, and with my family and friends. The museum is home to some of the most well-known and treasured pieces of art in history including: Van Goh’s The Starry Night, Lichtenstein ‘s Drowning Girl and multiple paintings from Monet’s Water Lilies series. I’m excited for my next trip to see how the physical acquisition – a series of @s in different type faces and sizes – looks in the museum.

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