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Twitter Enters the Beltway: Social Media and Lobbying

Everywhere you look these days, you find the seemingly exponential growth of Twitter . After dominating the world of upcoming social media lately, Twitter is now looking to gain a powerful foothold outside of Silicon Valley. The company posted yesterday an opening for a "Government Liaison" in Washington D.C. Twitter says they are trying to make their product more effective for "policymakers, political organizations, and government officials and agencies." The listing notes that they are building a "public policy department" to influence lawmakers to support Twitter's policy needs with patent law, net neutrality, consumer privacy and more unforeseen issues.

Twitter is by no means the first social media company to try and conquer Capitol Hill.  Facebook has been heavily invested in lobbying for several causes in recent years. In June 2009, Facebook hired notable former ACLU senior counsel Timothy Sparapani to head their lobbying division in Washington and advocate for them to Congress. Facebook is the leader in confronting regulation of internet companies that collect, store and use people's personal data. Only eight months after they added a dedicated lobbyist, Facebook expanded their Washington division twice over, adding a "public policy manager" and "public policy associate" to the team.

However, when it comes to tech companies staking their claim to Washington, Google, as always, is the biggest kid on the block . Spending $1.38 million in the first quarter of 2010 alone on lobbying, Google has shown that they are willing to do what it takes to make the changes they want in Washington. John Simpson, from Consumer Watchdog, told Investor's Business Daily that Google is "one of the biggest high-rollers as far as lobbying goes". Still, they are up against even heavier hitters in the fight for net neutrality and privacy issues: main opponent AT&T spent a total of  $14.7 million in 2010, mostly in direct opposition to Google's efforts.

Another important player in the Washington tech-lobbying scene is Research In Motion , the Canadian telecommunications firm that manufacture the most necessary Washington accessory-the Blackberry. After paying out a $612 million settlement from a patent lawsuit in 2006, Research In Motion has stepped up it's lobbying efforts, doubling the size of their Washington team in 2009 and spending $675,000 in the first quarter of 2010, up from their fourth-quarter total of $545,000 last year. Most of this money has gone towards further patent disputes, and, according to the Associated Press , "legislation on an inventory of U.S. radio spectrum" and  "the trade of minerals from conflict-ridden countries like the Congo" which are used in their electronics.

Twitter has now entered the political spectrum, so we can most likely see more tweets sent from the halls of power in our Nation's Capital. However, their added presence to the already exploding field of tech lobbying may be a drop in the bucket compared to the efforts of huge multinational corporations who already have their pockets open in Washington.

                       

A New Age of Crisis Reporting?: Media, the Oil Spill, and You

As the oil from the BP Gulf coast spill continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, the attention of the nation seems to focus on it more and more. As one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever seen, it is garnering huge media attention across platforms and is sure to be one of the biggest news stories of the year.  Now in the age of always-accessible information, people seeking factual, unbiased details from the spill area are left wanting.

The Washington Post reported last week that several major news organizations were being blocked from comprehensive coverage in myriad ways, including restriction of flight access and chaperoning of reporters in newly-restricted areas. Information has also been slowed by comprehensive gag orders written into contracts between BP and employees, including clean-up personnel and local boat owners. In addition, BP is "using paid search to influence public opinion" according to the Huffington Post . Every time a Google search is launched using relevant terms-including "oil spill", "gulf coast" and "BP disaster", the first sponsored link directs to BP's "Gulf of Mexico Response" page, offering corporate-tinged updates.

Although Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the federal government, told ABC News' "This Week" that he produced a written order for the media to be allowed "uninhibited access", the mainstream media is still being blocked in several avenues. This is where you come in.

In the age of citizen journalists and Web 2.0, every-day people are stepping up to the challenge of reporting one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Using facebook, twitter and brand new social media tools, non-credentialed civilians are keeping tabs on the spill and it's effects. The twitter hashtag "#oilspill" has been trending for weeks, with discussion spurred by pictures and tweets sent from the area affected by the spill. A Facebook group advocating for a boycott of BP has over 400,000 "likes" and user-uploaded photos of protests, affected animals and damaged coastline.

In addition, people looking for ways to document and share news of the spill have a brand new avenue-the mobile application OilReporter . Developed by CrisisCommons with Intridea and Appcelerator, OilReporter allows for mobile mapping, photo-documentation and real-time reporting of injured wildlife, oil-stricken beaches and wetlands. It even has a sliding scale with which the user can report exactly how much oil is in each location, and the ability to cross-check your location and information with the Federal Government, State Government, and Google Crisis Response data sources. With this new tool, normal people can report on the spill as it affects their lives directly, and share information with people all over the world concerned with the ramifications.

Oscar Sunday Gets Social on Facebook

As most of you may know, this Sunday is the 82nd Academy Awards.  While I’m not happy with some of the retro changes (let’s be honest and say that the ten Best Pic nominees could’ve been whittled down to four films, including one that was completely overlooked, The Informant) we’ll see in this weekend’s ceremony, I thought it was worth pointing out some new social media promotion tactics the Academy is trying out this year.

For the first time, the Oscars will broadcast red carpet coverage online, thanks to their partnership with Facebook, and will give users like you a chance to ask your favorite actor a question.  According to their page:

“We know you’re used to seeing stars at the Academy Awards®, but now for the very first time you can get involved! Oscar.com has partnered with Facebook to bring you Oscar.com Live from the Red Carpet, a very special online pre-show that allows you to watch the stars walk the Red Carpet and answer questions from fans like you. Yes, you read that right!

Join hosts Lisa Guerrero and Brett Chukerman as they cover all the action unfolding outside the Kodak Theater. Using your Facebook account, you can send a message to them on the Red Carpet, and they’ll pass along the best questions and comments in real time to the stars that sashay by. But that’s not all! Rico Rodriguez (Manny from the ABC hit comedy Modern Family) will also be on hand to meet and interview fans in attendance, as they experience all the glitz and glamour right from the Red Carpet.”

For viewers who like options and have either Facebook or Twitter log-ins, they can go to APLive and see streaming coverage there as well.   APLive is also making this available on their Facebook page, but users will have to become a fan in order to see the coverage, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 1,373 fans of the page jumps to a significantly higher number over the weekend** (See update).   This streaming event is the first of many for the year-long partnership between APLive and Livestream.

If you really feel like you need more connection to this year’s awards, there are a few iPhone Apps available for download for this (again, let’s be honest) very crowded awards year.   One thing I probably will be checking out this weekend is Adam Shankman’s Twitter feed, one of the two being promoted on Oscar.com.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic or snobby.  There were some great films this year and I’ll take a moment to throw out my top picks for Best Picture:

  1. Up (Pixar just knows how to pull at the heartstrings)
  2. Inglorious Basterds
  3. The Informant (what movie? Netflix it when it comes out later this month)
  4. An Education (probably my pick of the year)
  5. Honorable Mention: Drag Me to Hell (I’m not being cute here. It really is a great film.)

Update:  We all know the winner’s from last night’s ceremony.  Another Update**: AP Live’s Facebook page now has 7,672 fans.

Top 10 U.S. Olympic Athletes on Twitter

While the Vancouver Olympic games have the attention of TV audiences across the globe, the Twitter-verse’s attention seems to have followed.

olympics As these athletes compete for Olympic gold, competition is also on for sponsorship deals and marketability, and the number of followers for each athlete’s Twitter account is a strong indicator of the athlete’s public popularity. Here are Twitter’s top 10 followed athletes competing for team USA this Olympic season.

1. Shaun White, Snowboarding
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/Shaun_White
    Followers: 101,521

    I almost hesitate to include Shaun White, since his latest tweet was in September, but the man has quite a following.

2. Apolo Ohno,  Short Track Speed Skating
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/ApoloOhno
    Followers: 79, 618

    Best update: “Next up? 1000m. Imagine the 1500m but more intense, more aggresive tactics, faster speeds, and dare I say it? Crazier? I can't wait. :-)

3. Lindsey Vonn, Alpine Skiing
    Twitter stream:  http://twitter.com/lindseyvonn
    Followers:  45,439

    Best update: “I just found out about the Georgian luger who died today my heart goes out to his family and friends. http://bit.ly/9v7ljh

4. Angela Ruggiero, Ice Hockey
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/AngelaRuggiero
    Followers: 37,013

    Best update: ”Just finished practice at UBC arena. Great to have a light skate the day before Russia. Back to the village for some chow.”

5. Steve Mesler, Bobsled
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/SteveMesler
    Followers: 27,582

    Best update: “Some free time at the sport peformance center outside the Athletes Village in Whistler yields praise of good http://tweetphoto.com/11407443”

6. Louie Vito, Snowboarding
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/louievito
    Followers: 16,749

    Best update: “This is Ridic!!! RT @TelegraphNews Winter Olympics 2010: Japanese snowboarder punished for wearing low-slung trousers http://bit.ly/ciNDFq

7. Johnny Weir, Figure Skating
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/JohnnyGWeir
    Followers: 10,717

    The bio really says it all:  “Figure Skater Fashionista Movie Star”

8. Gretchen Bleiler, Snowboarding
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/GretchenBleiler
    Followers: 6,870

    Best update: “Let the Games Begin! Last night's opening ceremonies were amazing! Thanks for all the support tweeps!!“

9. Tanith Belbin, Pairs Figure Skating
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/TanithJLB
    Followers: 5,006

    Best update: “Just thought of a plan B to get to B.C. in time!Now, does anyone know where they keep Falkor the dragon from Neverending Story?”

10. Evan Lysacek, Figure Skating
    Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/EvanLysacek
    Followers: 4,680

    Best update: “All of our thoughts and prayers are with Team Georgia and the family of Nodar Kumaritashvili tonight. He'll be marching in spirit.”

Click here for a full list of U.S. athletes on Twitter.

The Problem with Retweets

As most probably know, Twitter is in the process of launching a version of the widely used retweet on its own platform.  The move has caused some controversy, as the way retweets has been implemented by Twitter is much different from the unofficial protocols that Twitter users developed organically on their own.  Twitter founder Evan Williams explains Twitter’s reasoning here.

I’ve been testing out the new retweet functionality for a few days, and I must say I am not a fan at all.  Sean Bonner has written a great blog post dissecting what he dislikes about Twitter retweets.   In his post, he hits on my two biggest issues.

  1. When a retweet appears in your Twitter stream, it shows the avatar of the person who wrote the original tweet instead of the retweeter.  So you have random people’s avatars showing up in your stream.
  2. Users can no longer add their own comments to the retweets.

The result of these two protocol changes is a complete lack of context for the retweets.  Bonner summarizes the lost context problem quite well in this paragraph of his post, which focuses on the avatar issue:

Seeing icons and usernames in my stream of people I don’t follow, even with the addition of a little “retweet” icon does not create a richer, fuller experience for me. It instantly makes me assume Twitter is broken and somehow people I don’t follow are showing up in my stream. It’s jarring and uncomfortable. Ev suggests there is no value in having the icon of the person you follow in a retweet but I completely disagree. Seeing the icon of someone I follow, someone I’m familiar with, instantly puts the retweet in context. Is the person regularly sarcastic which might imply the retweet is a joke, is the retweet a link to an article covering a topic this person usually tweets about which would give me an idea of the slant of the article, is the retweet from someone I follow because I respect and trust their opinion or is it a retweet from someone I’m friends with but don’t always agree with or from someone I follow because they constantly opposing my viewpoints and I want to hear their side of the story as well. Seeing the icon of the person I follow tells me a lot about the tweet and why they likely felt the need to retweet it before I ever read it. Seeing the icon of someone I don’t follow, don’t know, and have no context for confuses me.

Not being able to add your own note to the retweet further destroys the context.

Anyway, not a fan so far.  What do you think?

Update: Techcrunch has a very thorough and thoughtful article on this issue.