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Category Archives: Sri Lanka

What social media was like five years ago

I came across these pictures taken during a series of webinars on social media I conducted in late 2010, and it made me realize how far we have come. Or what we have left behind.

The series was called Passport to Digital Citizenship.

I have met some of these ‘students’ who have subsequently gone on to do amazing work in the digital space in Sri Lanka.

But now that I teach a different age and demographic of students, it is interesting to see how some major concerns of digital citizenship, have been over-ridden by new ones. Then there was no WhatsApp, and Instagram or Snapchat to think about. At that time, it was almost inconceivable that these new digital channels would practically revise the political spectrum in Sri Lanka – as Nalaka Gunewardene has well documented.

Webinar students - Passport to Digital Citizenship 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the experience all of you who attended.

What are the most important tools you use in your work today? More importantly what are your biggest challenges?  Privacy? Information overload? Earning trust? PR?

 

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Uncle Ben

It’s spring break for me. I’m taking time out here to talk about someone who defies everything we tend to believe about the Internet as a communications tool, and how social networks have become the quintessential (essential?) glue.

Uncle Ben just turned 78 today. You would not have seen it pop up on LinkedIn, you won’t see glowing wishes and purple prose about him on Facebook, WhatsApp, or for that matter an email thread. And yet I’m willing to bet that Uncle Ben has more friends than you. Lower-case friends, I mean.

People call on him every day to talk to him (not simply to ‘Like’ him); those who stop by his apartment don’t tale selfies with him because deep down they realize that a few hours spent together is all about him, not ‘all about me.’

When his sugar level goes up the whole world doesn’t know about it. When he’s spending a few weeks harvesting a bumper crop of beans in Bandarawela (his second home that he has freely opened out to anyone in the extended family) you don’t see close-ups of the pods in time-release photos. (Indeed they would make great Vine videos!) AS you may guess, Uncle Ben does not crave or entertain self-promotion. He’s a single man with dozens of nephews and nieces, and grand-nieces and grand nephews, and hundreds and hundreds of fans – down the street, at the market, the three-wheel taxi drivers, at the tennis clubs… I could go on.

I once attempted to show him how to use text messaging (stupid me: I thought, since most of us nephews and nieces would love to stay in touch, he would dig this). He gave up. But he loves chatting – the authentic kind of chat –and always gives us a call whether we are 30 miles away of 10,000.

As some of you know, I often write about curious or marvelous technology trends, and big shifts in how people communicate, collaborate or become more productive. Today, I am so glad Uncle Ben never reads my column, or never does any of these things. He’s the happiest guy I know, who lives entirely offline.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ben!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Sri Lanka

 

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SMS as a crowd-sourcing channel for… farmers

Remember when Short Codes were all the rage? That was a few decades (in Internet years, that is) before QR codes walked into the bar and stole the limelight.

I’m still a big fan of SMS, even though I use QR Codes for all manner of things. More on this later.)

We in the West are all enamored when we hear how a majority of the world is now mobile. 91 Percent of Americans own mobile phones, according to a Pew report in May.

When I was visiting Sri Lanka I ran into some interesting uses of Information-Communication Tech, I touched on ICT in a passing way in Chat Republic, only because I was making the case that social media users need to understand that the new, new thing they stumble upon is based on some very old concepts –crowd-sourcing being one of these.

I met the folks at Sri Lanka’s Information Communication Technology Agency, and they talked about a lesser-known project that enabled rural villages to use of ‘short codes’ via mobile phones to provide what amounted to SMS-enabled commodity trading.

Yes you read that right: Commodity trading for farmers for farmers!

It worked like this: A farmer sends an SMS to a knowledge hub using a particular short code, providing details of what he has to sell. Buyers or whole-sellers also subscribe to the service, and the portal matches the buyer and seller. The mobile device is just the tool that enables that digital hand-shake between these two groups of people.

They may never meet, but have learned to trust each other because of a secure network, and their comfort level with short codes.

Trust is a rare commodity in the social media space we inhabit. There are workshops and books on building trust, and I’ve read a few. But in practice, the ease of use, and the ability to fake it on social media is causing a backlash. We have become more skeptical of those who push links at us. Our digital handshakes, though instantaneous, and seamless are fraught with problems.

We may be all Web 2.0 but we tend to forget the basic tenets of being Human 1.0. Just ask those farmers who are using basically 1.0 tools.

Note: The image, above, is from a similar project in Bangladesh.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Chat Republic, Sri Lanka

 

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Google Street View in Sri Lanka, timely -as the ‘walls’ come down

I just wrote a bit of a cynical piece about Google Glass, but, as you may know, there is no shortage of parodies about this new, much-talked about product that will help people ‘augment’ the real world.

But my beef is not with Google, per se. It’s those whom I like to call ‘Shiny New OBject Syndrome’ types. You know, S-N-O-B-S :-)

The point being, I question if we really need everything reduced to data, or meta data –basically data about data. Do we need an appendage that turns our analog lives that are inherently data-rich in human connections, just to bathe in digital?

In one of my presentations (when asked about Big Data in a Web 2.0 era) I referred to a person who told me how he was befriended on LinkedIn by an old school buddy. Great, he thought, and clicked the button! Then he bumped into the chap a day later, and the ‘friend’ ignored him. In other words, flesh-and-blood alums are so boring, huh? The data-based connection was what the person was after.

Oddly enough, I am planning an upcoming trip, and enjoying the data Google delivers – via Street View. It’s truly amazing how one company can basically index the world as we pass through it. One country at a time. So far Google, which began capturing Street Views in 2007, has 50 countries and counting. Included are Hong Kong, Thailand, Romania, Poland…

Sri Lanka will be soon in this group – reliable sources tell me. I could see why the tourism and leisure industry would want this. For businesses too. Imagine being able to drive through a bridge, walk up the steps of a temple, check out the neighborhood in an area you plan to set up a company etc..

Inviting this kind of visibility, also trains citizens to expect greater transparency in surrounding areas. The new data we will have access to would (and should) inform a nation’s business leaders and public officials to plan for providing data beyond the ‘Street’ level.  We should be able to drive by, virtually, and pick up data, and meta-data: forms, policy papers, constitutional amendments, meeting notes, speeches, parliament bills and voting patterns etc. Will these come? Well, look at it this way. In Colombo, the government has been strident in tearing down the physical walls around public places. Cynics see this is as part of the post-war beautification strategy. But even as we will be able to peer into the windows of an un-walled town hall or government institution, (while Google,simultaneously, begins to provide virtual views) the expectation will be for greater access.

It’s an experiment that many will be watching. (No expensive Glasses required)

 
 

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‘Guru’ – spoiler alert

I cringe every time I run into the word ‘guru,’  especially when it is used as a generic term foro someone who expounds on any topic. Just like the term ‘master class’ and ‘best of breed’ the word means nothing.

I spotted the word in an article describing my input at one of the upcoming events I am attending, so I want to get this out of my system: I am a part-time writer, full-time teacher, observer of odd trends, trouble-maker, critique, and occasional ‘help desk’ sherpa (at least in my day job) when it comes to the infuriating things we have to do with computers. However, that does not make me a guru. Please!

FOR THE RECORD, I ignore gurus. I avoid them like the swine flu. I carry a hand sanitizer to clean up every time I am introduced to someone who calls him or herself one. Social media experts/gurus/ninjas are a dime a dozen. Advertising Age recently ran a piece about there being some 181, 000 of these types.

The entry for the word guru on Wikipedia (which usually excels in dehydrated language) says it is “used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté, due to the inflationary use of the term.”

There’s a deeper discussion of the term here, by author, B.R. Sharma. He says that “the absence of a guru, though, does not preclude learning and wisdom.” The corollary to which, I suppose, is: “the presence of a guru is no guarantee of understanding.”

Ok, I lied about the hand sanitizer part. But you get the point.

 

Meet the panel –for Chat Republic launch

It’s going to be an interesting round of conversations for the launch of Chat Republic in Colombo in a few weeks. The event, on June 18th, will focus on the power of social media across many disciplines.

The ‘knights,’ as Bates Chairman puts it, will include:

Shehara De Silva – GM, Marketing, Janashakthi Insurance

Virginia Sharma – VP of Marketing, Communications and Corporate Citizenship, IBM India/South Asia.

Dinesh Perera -Head of Digital Business / Creative Director, Bates

Nalaka Gunawardena – Citizen Journalist / LIRNEasia

Lakshaman Bandaranayake — Multi-Platform Publisher / Chairman, Vanguard Management

Shamindra Kulamanage – Magazine Editor

Ajitha Kadirgamar — Journalist, Social Media Specialist


Nimal Gunewardena
– Moderator / Chairman & CEO at Bates Strategic Alliance

Here’s how the media has reported it, calling this an ‘interrogation':

The interviewers will each straddle a different facet of the topic raging from social media’s use in marketing, adoption by ad agencies, vital value in PR, impact on mainstream editorial media, its mobilisation by citizen journalists and monitoring and analytics.

Not sure about a round table being interrogation technique. I’m there to learn as much as I could from these eminent folk. More details of the event, here.

 

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Citizens’ voices matter

A few years ago I conducted a series of webinar-style workshops for the U.S. State Department, for content creators, educators, marketers and those in traditional and new media. The workshops were called  “Passport to Digital Citizenship.”

I was convinced that citizen’s voices would be valuable, and –despite technological barriers and people who would try to keep them quiet– they could be heard.

So today, as my book is about to launch, I am thrilled to see this report by CNN on the importance of citizen-driven media.

Journalism has been forever changed — I’d argue for the better — thanks to the fact that people can interact with media organizations and share their opinions, personal stories, and photos and videos of news as it happens. This year’s nominated iReports are prime examples of how participatory storytelling can positively affect the way we cover and understand the news. 

(“36 stories that prove citizen journalism matters.” By Katie Hawkins-Gaar, CNN | Wed April 3, 2013 )

When we talk of  ‘participatory journalism’ we mean that ‘CitJos’ work alongside traditional media. They are not here as a replacement model, but to complement the changing media industry. Of the 100,000 citizen stories submitted to CNNiReport.com in 2012, they used 10,789 –having vetted them first.

I just interviewed the creator of a leading citizen journalist outfit in South Asia, and he stressed the importance of community guidelines, and careful design.

Citizen journalism, and the power of citizen voices is a big section in my book, Chat Republic.

 

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