domingo, 13 de marzo de 2011

How Twitter was born

I was asked to create a Twitter account for my online journalism class. It came to me then. I have been an active Facebook user for many years now and I know its story (Hello, The social network film!) but, what about Twitter?

Twitter was created In San Francisco in 2006 by Evan Williams, now chief executive and who is ranked as number 9 in the MediaGuardian top 100 most powerful people; Jack Dorsey, chairman; and Biz Stone, creative director. It rapidly became its own company, ‘Twitter Incorporation’, in March 2006. Since then, Twitter hasn’t made any money. Instead, investors have been giving money in exchange for partial ownership and the rights to a cut of future profits (if there are any). These investors called “venture capitals” or VCs are companies in which wealthy individuals or organizations can bring their money together to help fund companies with a promising future and keep them alive. But the “SMS of the internet”, as Twitter is also called, has still not found its business strategy. It has refused to adopt an advertising business model in which ads are set all over the blog, as it the case in other social networks. That way, Twitter has no official business model for the moment.

However, the site was planning to start generating revenue in 2009 from the fast-growing free service: “We'll start experimenting this year. We don't have to hit a home run right away, we remain focused on growth, but we're looking forward to showing some progress in this area”, co-founder Biz Stone said in 2009 for a AFP interview. Evan Williams added on October 21, 2009, that one idea is to sell businesses that use it packages with extra features to help them reach their customers and follow people’s opinion about them on the site (In fact, there is an interesting blog about how business and law firms can profit from Twitter for marketing purposes) Therefore, Twitter founders expect to roll out paid commercial accounts the very next future. Despite all the ideas, Twitter is still developing its model and does not charge users.

The California-based company claims to have more than six million users and a “phenomenal growth rate” of a monthly 900 percent. It is ranked as one of the 50 most popular websites worldwide and is supposed to be the fastest-growing site in the Member Communities category. Concerning the economic data, there is some information about Twitter. A hacker succeeded to access some private Twitter documents (Instead of circumventing any actual security measures, the hacker managed to correctly answer the personal questions that some Internet sites ask when users need to reset their passwords), including financial information they expected once they start making any money. This numbers were re-taken and published in The New York Times on July 15, 2009:

Twitter expected their first revenue to come in Q3 2009. A modest $400,000 was expected, followed by a more robust $4 million in Q4. The document also shows Twitter’s projected user growth (25 million by the end of 2009), which it has absolutely blown through already. By the end of 2010, Twitter expected to be at a $140 million revenue run rate.

Further numbers talk about an increase till the end of 2013: 1 billion users, $1.54 billion in revenue, 5,200 employees and $1.1 billion in net earnings. Twitter made sure these numbers were not official, and, since they haven’t implemented any changes to start making revenue, they have not been fulfilled neither for now.

How do social networks affect journalism ?

Nowadays, there is a transformation for the journalist from being the gatekeeper of information to sharing it in a public space: “The venerable profession of journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where, for the first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves. Armed with easy-to-use Web publishing tools, always-on connections and increasingly powerful mobile devices, the online audience has the means to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information. And it’s doing just that on the Internet.” Therefore participatory journalism (also known as “public”, “citizen”, “democratic” or “street journalism”) –and specially, through social networks- is something we must be aware of. According to the 2003 report “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information” participatory journalism is the concept of members of the public “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information". Authors Bowman and Willis say: "The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires."

Participatory journalism is changing the balance of power between journalists and their readers –“(...) these techniques are irrevocably changing the nature of journalism, because they’re giving enormous new power to what had been a mostly passive audience in the past”-. Realizing that some means of acknowledgment of this “shift” is needed in order to success as a journalist, Gillmor advocates free communication network as a medium for everyone’s voice. Only by being aware of the alteration of the nature of journalism can this “career” survive. The idea of powerful institutions dominating the production and distribution of news and information is no longer sustainable. Participatory journalism is a reality that is evolving into a shared experience. The roles of storytellers and gatekeepers are being questioned by ordinary citizens that are willing to contribute with their own piece of news. This explains why the blogging phenomenon is affecting the traditional journalistic practices and making us distinctly uncomfortable. The Internet allows everyone to write. Some blogs have bigger audiences than many newspapers and are as influential to the audience as any other journalistic medium. Gillmor states that “If modern American journalism has been a lecture, it’s evolving into something that incorporates a conversation and seminar”. What the author is trying to say is that the lines between producers and consumers are beginning to blur. Nowadays, their roles –both producers and consumers- are changing. Why? As Gillmor puts it “There are new possibilities for everyone in the process: journalist, newsmaker and the active “consumer” of news isn’t satisfied with today’s product –or who wants to make some news, too”

With today’s technology the participatory journalism movement has found new life as the average person can capture news and distribute it globally. Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom says that “the capacity to make meaning – to encode and decode humanly meaningful statements – and the capacity to communicate one’s meaning around the world, are held by, or readily available to, at least many hundreds of millions of users around the globe.” If everybody is writing, how can quality journalism survive and thrive in the Internet age? How can we (future journalists) keep our career if the audience is contributing with their own pieces of information?

Information is not journalism. You get a lot of things, when you open up Twitter in the morning, but it does not necessarily match the definition of journalism. Journalism needs discipline, analysis, explanation and context, and therefore to me it is still a profession –I am largely optimistic about that-. Richard Sambrook, the director of the BBC Global News Division, said that “the value that gets added with journalism is judgment, analysis and explanation - and that makes the difference. So journalism will stay. However, journalists must understand one rule: if you believe you are in competition with the internet, find your way out. Collaboration, openness and link culture are rules, you can't deny at the moment. News today still has to be accurate and fair, but it is as important for the readers, listeners and viewers to see how the news is produced, where the information comes from, and how it works. The emergence of news is as important, as the delivering of the news itself. I don’t see the internet as a place where news come from – although Sky News has a Twitter correspondent researching the micro-blogging platform.”

According to Martin Langeveld, author of Building networks around news "Even though the audience's engagement with social networks is growing strongly, news enterprises have been slow to wade into the social networks waters. Publishers (and specially editors) still tend to see themselves as curators of content: selecting, generating, massaging and presenting material for the audience they perceive, but not really networking with that audience except in rudimentary ways like comment forums that are not enormously evolved from the old channel of writing a letter to the editor". Among other things, by building a social network around, news media can stimulate conversations about news, certainly something that will help news media survive and grow. "Social networks built around news can’t happen without journalists who are adept at social networking, themselves".

viernes, 11 de marzo de 2011

Do social networks affect our lives?

Social networks play nowadays –whether we like it or not- a key role in our lives. Why? Because they are reshaping the way we interact and communicate with others.

As Manuel Castells exposed in Internet and autonomy building in the network social networks provide a groundbreaking communication model throughout the Internet, enhancing the social life of its users. Perhaps the most famous examples are Twitter, MySpace, Tuenti, LinkedIn or Flickr, but these just form part of a long list of networks. Through them users get to :create groups, upload photos, share blogs, find and meet new friends who have same interests, comment on their friends’ wall, chat with them, participate on discussions groups (on Studying Social Media, for instance) and many more things! By creating groups of friends, users can reach people in a quicker and easier way. Social networks are thereupon strengthening social relations, partly because they are helping us to bridge the distance and therefore, we are able to contact people from all around the world.

Social networks affect our identity too. People act differently when they are logged in a social network. On the one hand, relationships certainly become more virtual and impersonal. On the other hand, the idea of “group identity” can make us distinctly comfortable by feeling identified or endorsed within a community. Another advantage of social networks is that they can help us gain a professional reputation. You can easily become popular or famous if your profile receives lots of visits. This explains why social networks are becoming important tools for journalists.

Scholars have focused on debate on whether social networks strength or weak our social relations. The vision of Jan van Dijk is that social relations are getting weaker and weaker -not in an explicit way- due to the digital divide. The digital divide is the gap between those who do and those who do not access to new forms of information and technology. If we think of it, social networks are nothing without the Internet so the digital divide and the weakening of social relations are, in one way or another, linked. People that have Internet and social networks don’t care about the rest of the world. Nowadays if you don’t have a social network profile you are not part of the so-called information society, and by extension, of today’s world. In my opinion, social relationships are getting stronger thanks to social networks. They complete the original means of communication, such as telephony, handwritten letters and e-mails, and have become far more popular. In short, social networks are the result of the changing modern society, the era of information and communication.