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A Recap of NDN's Panel on Advancing Internet Freedom

On Tuesday July 20th 2010, NDN hosted a speaker panel titled Advancing Internet Freedom: Tackling Barriers to the Global Free Flow of Information. This event featured Daniel Calingaert and Anita Ramasastry two prominent authorities on the topic of internet censorship and the power of online freedom of speech. During their presentations, both presenters discussed topics ranging from mobile economic opportunities abroad to further US government regulation of internet content.

The NDN forum touched heavily upon the groundwork laid by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s January 2010 speech on internet freedom that was lauded as the first of its kind for a foreign policy decision maker.   Clinton spoke about issues of international censorship over the press and individual media publishers, and warned about the “new information curtain” that is cutting off information to developing nations with totalitarian governments.

Both speakers at the “Advancing Internet Freedom” event discussed the role of domestic and foreign government in regulation and expansion of internet services – particularly as they relate to ordinary citizens.  Echoing Secretary Clinton’s remark that “the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it,” Anita Ramasastry discussed the importance advocating for oppressed peoples through greater access to technology and information.  Subsequently, Daniel Calingaert spoke about the rights of citizens and the importance of not accepting censorship in the name of political stability. Both speakers stressed the empowerment of citizens though the creation and sharing of content on social media and internet websites. 

The London Times' Pay Wall and Future Impacts on Online Publishing

The London Times is one of the first major global newspapers to begin implementing an internet pay wall for access to its news and editorial content. This bold move by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is part of an overall strategy to move toward a paid online content distribution system, and is aimed at helping to turn a profit for the flailing newspaper publishing industry. Before the launch of this pay wall, The London Times had the 40th largest newspaper circulation in the world, and the results of  the profit-driven wall could be indicative of what the rest of the newspaper industry can expect to undergo in the coming years.

The paywall restriction went into full effect in early July 2010, and first reported subscriber figures look disappointing. Numbers of readers is down across the board, despite the newspaper’s effort to reach out to new readers. Access to the site currently costs 2£ per week – which is a substantial discount from the paper subscription price.  However, for the week ending July 10th, reports indicate that overall traffic fell to only 33% of its pr-pay wall level.  The Times supports both standard operating systems and the iPad OS, allowing readers with WiFi connections to read content on the go.

In an August 2006 research reports, The Bivings Group looked at the use of internet by America’s newspapers, and a great deal has changed in the four years since the findings were released.

What this means for The Future of Pay Walls

The pay wall is generating profit, but if page views exponentially decline, then the Times’ online ad revenue will undoubtedly suffer. A market leader in the United States, the Wall Street Journal runs a fiscally profitable pay wall, due in part to the fact that its site content is highly valued across the globe. The London Times may be encountering problems due to having no-cost substitutes Issues with low initial readership may be overcome if the newspaper’s other competitors institute similar pay walls and leave the reader no choice than to pay 2£ per week to read their favorite newspapers.

Fundraising 2.0: Choosing The Right Site

Social media may dominate the conversation when it comes to Web 2.0, but there is untapped potential seen by corporations and organizations, who are left asking: how can I use this to raise funds? There are several websites now aiming to combine the powerful networking capability of social media and the fundraising capabilities of independent web sites. These sites enable individuals and organizations to reach their donors directly at little or no cost, giving them an alternative to mailed-in donations of years past. Through online fundraising sites, individuals have the power to not only support their favorite causes, but to spread the word about them virally.

One of the first major players in online fundraising, Globalgiving.com has led the charge in online giving since 2004, gathering “$18 million in funding to more than 1,000 grassroots projects in over 90 countries”. Organizations can post projects to the site such as “Nurture 15 at-risk children for a year” or “Make college an option for 70 Congolese students”. Globalgiving, founded by former World Bank executives, takes a 15% share of every donation to cover the costs of finding projects and credit card processing. They also provide a giving channel for large corporations such as Nike, Ford and HP.

Offering a more personal version of giving online, and with a similarly long track record in online fundraising sector is stayclassy.org. With a simple premise, “What do you care about?”, the site is a platform for groups and individuals to create events and campaigns, manage donor relationships, raise funds, create publicity through social media and track fundraising results. Founded in 2006, stayclassy.org was one of the first personal online fundraising options and had 20,000 members by 2009.

One of the newest online fundraising options is Crowdrise, led and supported by celebrities such as Edward Norton and Will Ferrell, oddly enough. It works like this: you sign up on the site, and start a project. It could be anything, from a personal cause fundraiser, to an event, or a volunteer opportunity. You then use other social media sites like facebook or twitter to gather donations or volunteers, and then spread your cause through your page on Crowdrise to gather supporters that can either donate to your cause or use their own networks to spread the word The site is focused around making philanthropy cool, with the tagline: “If you don’t give back, no one will like you” and a points system that rewards project leaders with gifts like Northface Jackets and Apple laptops.

Sites such as these are only one way the Internet is fundamentally changing personal giving. Stay updated on how other forms of social media are shifing the definition of philanthropy and the nature of fundraising with the Bivings Report’s “Fundraising 2.0” series.

Pakistan’s Media Ban: Limiting Access and Spurring Action

When I traveled around Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital last month on an independent reporting project, all the sources I encountered under the age of 40 asked me the same question: “Are you on Facebook?”

The social networking site is massively popular in the Islamic republic, and this week’s ban – and subsequent banning of YouTube and nearly 1,000 other social sites – stifles the communication of a population with very few social freedoms.

The ban, set in place Wednesday, resulted from an admittedly ill-advised Facebook group calling for celebrations and submissions of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” Depicting the prophet is  forbidden in Islam.

While Pakistan is led by a notoriously tight government, they have one of the most open media systems in the world. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ushered in an age of journalism allowing dozens of new TV news channels and publications to flourish. While not all of the reporting is responsible, Pakistanis have enjoyed open access to media sources, including websites, for some time.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which implemented the bans, reacted to the protests of thousands across the country offended by the Facebook group, so the ban is not coming only from the government, but from its citizens.

“I am in favour of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. But there needs to be a fine line drawn. Otherwise freedom of expression can turn into freedom to offend,” Pakistani blogger Kashif Aziz said in a BBC News interview.

Another blogger, however, took the side of many of Pakistan’s young voices, saying although only 8 percent of Pakistanis have internet access, but that it provides a critical means of communication and expression.

"The internet has become a way of life itself. If they continue to block things, this is going to hinder Pakistan’s progress,” said Dr. Awab Alvi to the BBC.

The ban on Facebook could be in place until May 31, and the date for lifting the wall to other sites are being addressed individually.

2010 Politics Online: Top Ten Known Unknowns

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”- Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

With the sheer quantity and overall quality of information presented at this weeks 2010 Politics Online Conference, choosing just 10, or even 20 or 30 of the most insightful or unique comments is no easy task. Although Mr. Rumsfeld was obviously not referring to social media, and his comment here was widely criticized, keeping in mind exactly what you know, what you don’t know, and what you might never know are important principles to keep in mind when designing or managing a social media campaign.

For anyone who could not attend or might have missed a few sessions, all of the panels on track D were covered by CSPAN and are available here. Keynote addresses in the main ballroom were broadcast live via Usteam.Tv and are available on the Politics2010 channel.

Top Ten Known Unknowns

10. One panel predicted that Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Google Buzz will not be here next year. I have written previously about the multitude of location based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla and how I doubt that they all will survive.  Is Social Media a zero-sum game? Will the pie keep expanding as access to broadband expands and new users come online?

9. "It doesn't matter how many people you have as fans on Facebook. You only need the right 5." While it is easy to focus on the sheer number of followers and fans one might have on Facebook or Twitter, as this blog has pointed out before, quality always trumps quantity.  Finding those key fans or linchpins is the key. Broadly speaking, there is a certain intangible benefit to social media that is not always easy to identify. What will the new measures of success be?

8. Nic Adler gave an excellent presentation on his experience using social media to help save his nightclub, the legendary Roxy on Sunset Strip. Rather than ignoring or antagonizing his competition, Nick worked with competing venues like The Viper Room to reinvigorate the music scene, even going so far as to organize Tweet-crawls where he would actually encourage his customers to visit other businesses! Will social media make business and society more equitable? 

7. During the Bush administration, a single blog post by an independent blogger was ultimately responsible for pushing the administration to redesign the White House’s website. Another panelist remarked that compared to corporate customer service, the level of customer service people expect from government organizations is unattainable. While technology is certainly streamlining many interactions citizens have with government agencies, how willing should we be to outsource government functions?

6. Given the already explosive growth of the mobile internet, what does the future have in store for augmented reality applications? If you had an application for your phone that showed exactly what your local government has done or not done- potholes fixed, how much that bridge cost would you use it?  How about an application that pointed out a problem? In Washington DC you can report potholes via email or Twitter.

5. “Email is the hub around which Facebook, Twitter and other social media revolve.” – Colin Delaney. Email is still king. Businesses and organizations should focus on having a strong email program before branching out into social media. When and if this will change is still a matter of some debate.

4. “Social Media is nothing less than the reinvigoration of American democracy." -Rod Martin, Founder of Paypal. What exactly this reinvigorated democracy will look like, and whether or not it will improve government services and perceptions of government is tough to say. Considering that a small minority of Twitter users are responsible for a majority of the content, many have noted that the internet and social media tend to amply the loudest and most extreme viewpoints.

3. Microsoft’s Campaign Ready Suite. Despite a rocky demo that was plagued by an overtaxed WIFI system, Microsoft’s TownHall is something to watch. As a veteran of several campaigns, I can attest to the reluctance of some candidates and consultants to embrace new tools. One aspect of their program that was largely overlooked was the fact that it is open source. Does this represent a shift in Microsoft’s approach to designing software?

2. “Very likely to see independent Presidential candidate in 2012 that will make Ross Perot look like a joke.” – Joe Trippi. As we get closer to the midterm elections in November, many candidates are facing primary challenges from candidates whose campaigns would not have been possible without the internet. Will social media lead to a multi-party system?

1. The biggest threat to the future of the internet is filtering or censoring by governments, otherwise known as 'vulcanization'. Although pretty much everyone agrees that actions taken by China and Iran to censor content and limit access are egregious afford to freedom of speech, there was a surprising amount of disagreement among panelists about the potential fallout from the FCC’s recent attempt to force Comcast to stop managing its customers bandwidth on the per-per service Bit Torrent. Are regulations preventing ISPs from prioritizing internet traffic an unnecessary intrusion or necessary reform?