Quick Updates on the NASA Diwali Image Phenomenon : Socially Constructed Thruths and the Persistence of Popularity

October 26th ( 2:40 Pm Chicago Time Less than 48 hrs on) ;66, 248 Shares  ( three times over 22,000 before)

October 25th ( 14 hrs on)

Remember in my original post I had speculated that as India would wake up , we would see an exponential rate of increase in the alternate truth. Yes the 1000 odd shares on that thread have grown to 23,000 ( in 12 -13 hrs) in that thread ( potential audience of 7-8 million just from this source).

Interestingly, there were many counter-voices in some of the threads that circulated who argued with similar logic as to why the image was not one of Diwali.Some of these even pointed out to the original website of the image confirming that it wasn’t a Diwali image.  Yet the Euphoria continues to persist.

To me it reflects that on Social Media, once certain facts get socially constructed, it is very hard to let alternate facts percolate. In other words, their popularity will continue to persist, even though they have been proven wrong! There seems little room for course correction.

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Social Media and The Problem with ‘Socially Constructed Truths’ : Why all Believed that the NASA Picture Was Clicked on Diwali

India and her diaspora worldwide was excited about Divali, (the festival of lights), and for good reason. A day before Divali,  October 25 2011 3:30 pm CT, I noticed that a map had become a ‘Facebook hit’. In less than 5 hrs,  the link had first appeared it had already been shared by 1000 odd people ( giving it a potential audience of at least 200,000). Remember I am reporting figures for only 1 thread that I could trace.

An idea took form that the picture was an illumination of the country on Diwali night. Of course most people related the distinct, yellow, green and red dots to the colors of fireworks.  When it popped on my wall ( as the 950th share) I immediately questioned that Colombo(Sri Lanka), Lahore (Pakistan) and Delhi could not be celebrating divali with the same ‘illumination’. (Some even speculated these were the remnants of Hindu legacies in these cities!) Also why would people in certain areas burst green colored fireworks when the rest of the country was bursting yellow.

Leave that, it was easy to explain the map if one understood some   development parameters and grade school geography of the region ( Electrical Connectivity and Population Density, Location of the cities, Mountains).

So I decided to question how could the illumination be different from any other night (when the Power grid hadn’t failed)? I commented with my reservations on the wall of the friend who had shared this with me. Seeing some merit in my reservations, he digged the original source of the picture and indeed found it had nothing to do with Divali. He found the original source on FB itself, when someone else like me ( a friend of a friend of his) had commented on their common friend’s share of this post with similar concerns and found this link.

But our counter-currents are far and few between. That they are the complete truth does not matter . As I write, the Indian diaspora on Facebook believes that the map is indeed a NASA picture clicked on a Divali evening. I am sure in a few hours when Indians wake up this ‘socially constructed truth’ will spread further and more widely. ( See my update tracking the numbers)

To me this is the grim reality of online social media!

Happy Divali Regardless

Hail the web and the blogosphere: Finally my blog has had ‘real impact’

I have been updating this blog somewhat regularly now. I have often wondered whether I write this weblog for a particular audience . Perhaps the diverse nature of posts (yes I go all over) suggests that I don’t. So why do I then bother to use tags, categories to make my blog more search friendly. However I have been proven wrong and I am thrilled!
Regular readers (sigh!) will remember a few weeks ago I wrote about my rather funny but adorable roommate from Russia, Mikhail Safronov on this blog. I had forgotten about this post altogether. A few hours ago Mikhail came running to my room, excited and blurted out loud ” Harsh, A real Bhains ki Aankh has happened. My parents saw your blog and now are making fun of me and my mom is a little worried that Barack Obama should not see this blog !”

We were amused that how did they get to this post. I used the word-press dashboard to see what search terms had been used recently to get to this blog. And found that someone on 2nd Feb 2010 had used the phrase “northwestern university safronov” to get here. So now Mikhail knows that his parents (or their colleagues) try to stay more informed about their son than his phone calls can inform them. Maybe the economist will elevate his views about a PhD in Media, Technology and Society!

So a piece of content produced in the USA which perhaps appealed to only one unit in Russia – Mikhail’s household – reached there in less than two weeks after it was produced. The recipients had to be just more active in seeking what they wanted to read/view. I hope Mr Safronov gets to read this one too!

Has user generated content killed old ‘media logic’ ?

Recently, at a graduate students’ party somewhere in Midwestern United States, two short and sweet videos got very spontaneously produced.

What intrigues me is that all it took was a gathering of a cross cultural group, some high “spirits” and these two videos got produced .At absolutely no cost, in absolutely no time. Yet a platform like YouTube ensures that they can be viewed by as many people, anywhere as many times – all for free. This is free automatic production and free consumption at its best.

I make no claims that these two videos are potential blockbusters. But then how often does prime time television or cinema for that matter produces hits? With a little bit of costs and promotions some of these nuggets can also assume blockbuster proportions as a fellow media enthusiast writes about Charlie. Charlie is one such success story among thousands.
Remember the funniest group dance. No one created it as a media event. But at 40,000 views, 88 high ratings, and 56 text comments, it has made its impact. It has engaged a larger community than MICA , a communication school in India where this was a dance performed at an annual function.Someone just videotaped and decided to share it online – the hyperlinked society ensured the rest

These are stories that question conventional media logic. The logic which involved high production and distribution resources, and subsidies from advertisers and consumers. In other words,does the concept of Free spell the death of culture industries?

Let me know if you have answers

Tweets as Text Messages: Unresolved questions for low internet penetration markets

I am sorry if the title of this post reads like a research paper, (yes you got it) I will blame it on pressures of Grad school. Anyhow:

There has been a lot of chatter that the power of twitter lies in its integration with mobile devices. More specifically tweets being 140 characters can be easily sent via text messaging. And given that in markets where internet growth has kind of hit a wall ( India) mobile phones and text messaging are growing like wildfire. I believe India has 500 million mobile users now versus some 35 million internet users and my sense is that only a third of these internet users would be accessing the net everyday. As for their cellphones well they wine, dine, move and even sleep with them.

So by signing deals akin to the one they signed recenty with with Bharti Airtel ( India’s largest mobile provider) is Twitter all set to widen its user base? Even if an average twitter user tweets twice a day it will cost him Rs 3, and given that there are 50 people he follows he recieves 100 tweets a day. That’s enough gossip to keep someone satiated . As for Twiter if 10 million people do this (2% of mobile users) and as per a revenue share arrangement with Bharti they earn Rs 0.50 per tweet that is about Rs 10 million a day ( USD 80 million annually) – this is assuming a very conservative user base ( If 9.5 millions are already on Facebook already twitter’s integration with text should give it a much larger user base).
Think Something’s amiss? Read on
Consider two people, Amit and Neha ,18 and 20 years old.(SEC B2) They go to a degree college in Muzzafarpur in Bihar (Imagined Data). They have had mobile phones for some time and by now are fairly hooked to text messaging. However they have never used the internet yet. How will they ever discover the utility of twitter? How will they add friends to follow? They represent 90% of India’s mobile users who (almost) all of whom don’t access the internet.

That said the euphoria surrounding Twitter and mobile devices is not unfounded. Existing users of twitter can tweet more frequently and actively ,on the move. But for the millions of ‘Amits’ and ‘Nehas’ how will they even learn about twitter and appreciate its use in their lives unless they discover it on the Web. The extended usage on mobile can only follow that discovery.

A revelation about social media’s role in everyday lives

Social media has become a part of mainstream lives as being reflected in general news stories where services like twitter and facebook play important character roles!

A recent online encounter took me by some surprise. Since I have over emphasized in my last post about grad students having no money, a newspaper subscription that sets one back by $ 20 -30 a month is out of question. For the uninitiated, Chicago Tribune is 75 cents on weekdays and a whopping 2 bucks on Sundays. I think even annual subscriptions cost $150 -$200. Despite these costs, a few loyalists in my building do get the paper delivered, and I occasionally steal a glance at headlines.
One such story 3-4 days ago was about Twitter which I wanted to read. Earlier today, I decided to find it on the Tribune Website and keyed in ‘twitter’ in the search box with the optimism that I will find it among the first few search results. After all, how much would have been written about twitter in a general news daily in the last 4 days.

But I found 281 results and the article I was looking for was nowhere on the first couple of pages. Twitter was an integral component of many news stories apart from the obvious media/technology stories to those ranging from news about airline industry to Hollywood celebrities and social trends . All the three stories I have linked have appeared on the same day (October 12,2009) and this is not inclusive of all stories in today’s Tribune that talk about twitter. And this is just twitter, if I keyed in facebook, digg and other similar services, I may find many more stories where these websites are characters that have important roles to play.
While a lot is being written about social media per se, but a lot that is being written about real people and their interactions using social media, suggests that these services are surely out of discussion forums of tech/media enthusiasts and have become part of the mainstream.

Interestingly the article I was looking for was about twitter’s plans to monetize its website. If you are convinced that the service has phenomenal potential, you may just want to read it here !

Birth of a longform creature in a 140 char economy

I am not posting this 27 years later about  myself -rather talking about this blog. I am wondering if this is yet another blog I have given birth to to contribute to the growing infant mortality rates of weblogs by never really posting anything beyond the first couple of posts.

A sudden phenomenon on the web seems to have fascinated the world with its own short messaging platform. One often wonders where is the space for typical weblogs in this 140 character economy.A new blog may appear like a half rebellious attempt at expressing my discontent with the newest of new media trends.

If ‘tweeting’ and ‘digging’ were not enough inclusions in the list of delicious things one could stumble upon , we are now talking about retweeting of tweets.

Lets see how far can this  child of mine live on.  Help may not be on its way so soon after all