Of security in social networking…

The CISCO Global Security Report discusses current global trends and threats and makes recommendations for 2010.  The first of the five report highlights states very clearly that “Online criminals have taken advantage of the large social media following, exploiting users’ willingness to respond to messages that are supposedly from people they know and trust. ” 

The full report available for download from the CISCO website (PDF, 9.22Mb). click here

Born to farm(ville)

Farmville (Virginia, USA) had a population of 6,845 people in the year 2000. The Wikipedia article about the small and relatively unknown town of Farmville says “In 2009, the Cormier Honors Program at Longwood University created a community garden near the corner of Griffin Blvd. and High Street. This piece of land was not being used by the community or the university and the Honor Program saw it as ripe with possibilities.”

Zynga too identified an unused piece of land which was ripe with possibilities! Since Farmville‘s launch in June 2009, this Facebook simulation game has attracted a community of almost 70.5 million farms. Some of them (if brought out of the virtual world) would probably be as big as the 18sq km that makes Farmville (Virginia). I am admittedly not a keen Facebook farmer and my very humble patch of land looks like this… It’s got the basic farmland of 6 squares and two trees, two water-fountains and a goat… all donated to me as “gifts” by friendly farmers! I recently even received a holiday tree.

The player controls the game through an avatar that can be personalised to resemble the player :)  Land, buildings, tools, seeds, ornaments etc… can be purchased with Farmville money which is earned by putting effort into growing crops and rearing animals on one’s farm. Land and resources, for those that cannot afford the time, is also available for hard cash at 10$ for a wad of 55 Farm cash. This much would get you a good start in the agri-business (a hundred times bigger than mine!) consisting of a “big family farm” with 18×18 squares and a “plantation” of 20×20 squares. Discounts are available every now and again… then a wad of 240 Farm cash is slashed from $40 to $32 and the 55Fc for 8$ (instead of $10)!

The concept of Farmville is not new. I am old enough to have played Simcity 2000 ( in 1993/4) and vaguely remember its precursor Simcity on Commodore 64. Farmville followed myFarm and Farmtown, both farm-simulation games for Facebook. About a month ago, Zynga followed the success of Farmville with another simulation game… now called Fishville. The interface is very similar to Farmville, making it fairly easy for Zynga to make of it another quick winner.

I will close this post with some interesting numbers: The Holiday Tree was announced by Farmville admin on the 04 Dec. At the time of writing this post, over 46,000 people had “Liked” this and over 50,000 left a comment!

Does all this have any relevance when looking at engaging people in truly creating better societies? (instead of just playing at farmers and building imaginary aquariums!!)

Facebook active users vs. EP voter turnout

I started writing this post just after reading the Facebook message from Marc Zuckerberg (the founder). Then I had to save it in draft and return to it today… It may be slightly passe` but I still wanted to share this thought!

Facebook runs into its fifth year of existence with a network of 350 million users. That is almost as big as the voting population for elections of the European Parliament in 2009. The biggest difference however, is that this collection of people has a voice that can speak up without needing a middleman. Facebook was 300 million users just two and a half months earlier. Even if its growth rate seems to have slighlty slowed down, it will be as big as the voting population for the European Parliament in a matter of months.

And yet, the June 2009 elections are probably the largest trans-national democratic vote ever made possible in recorded history — at least according to the BBC’s Q&As. The most important statistic however is the new record low turnout for these elections: one which brought less than half of the eligible 375 million persons to the polls. This can and should be compared by those at the helms of politics worldwide with the active participation in the Facebook network. As I write this post, and according to the official Facebook statistics:

  • 50% of the 350 million users log on every day;
  • 20% of them update their status (55 million updates for each of the 35 million who choose to do so);
  • on average a user spends more than 55 minutes on Facebook every day; and
  • clicks on the “Like” button on 9 pieces of content each month!

The European Parliament Digital Trends report drawn by Fleishman Hillard shows a staggering reality of 62% of MEPs who had never heard about Twitter, even if 75% of them have a website! Only 24% use a blog, and only a quarter (26%) of these blogging MEPs, actually comment on blogs other than their own! This reminded me of one of the quotes that were running on a big screen at the eGovernment Conference in Sweden… A website is so dot-com, get a platform! (author cannot be credited because I can’t remember who it was!) This is so true and, yet so unappreciated.

The most active online users have gotten away from websites and are participating in the creation of rich content. The significance of social media is not in being online but in having an active participatory role. Fleishman Hillard’s report concludes that “Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) recognize that EU citizens go online and that they therefore need a web presence. However, the majority of MEPs do not currently take full advantage of social media tools as a means to engage with voters and drive them to their websites.”

I checked the realtime stats on Europatweets whilst writing this post and just over 60 hashed tweets had been recorded in the last 24 hours.

The convergence of media on to the Internet is changing the social landscape by the minute and it is good to note that there is awareness of this amongst politicians. But what has been achieved in Europe to date has not even scraped the surface!

Public Consultation on the European Citizens’ Initiative

The Lisbon Treaty’s coming into force on 1st December will establish a clear democratic right for European citizens to put forward policy proposals to the European Commission. The principle has been termed the Citizen Initiative and is as yet only broadly defined in the treaty.

The procedures and conditions required for the receipt of citizen initiatives will be determined by a Regulation to be adopted by both Parliament and Council upon a proposal of the Commission. To this end, the European Commission has launched a public consultation to help define what it calls the “practical details” of how a million citizens hailing from a representative number of EU countries could come forth with such initiatives.  The consultation is supported by a Green Paper (published on the 11 November) which promises to identify practical questions. Input is welcome until the end of January 2010.

Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Inter-institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, stressed that “the participation of the citizens in decision-making is indispensable for democracy”.

eParticipation (and the role of the social media in this) is surely a practical concern not to be underestimated! Will an initiative put forward by a million Facebook members from a “significant number of member states” be considered? How will the Commission know that they effectively are individual nationals of the Member States (eAuthentication)? Will their having logged into Facebook and joined the “Cause” constitute an electronic signature to the petition for the initiative (eSignatures)? Will a million active Facebookers be able to determine the agenda of what the Commission proposes? Or will we forget all about the “e” and succumb to ole pen ‘n paper?

Twitter accounts for UK Government departments

I have just come across a document titled “Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments“. The document is prepared by Neil Williams — Head of corporate digital channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (@neillyneil). There is also a blog about its release which makes an interesting read for those who would like to follow the thinking behind the publication of this document.

Promising Practices in Online Engagement

Over the last couple of years online engagement has matured from initial experiments to a broad range of proven methods. While the technologies and practices still have to prove whether they can handle the scale of engagement on a national level, online engagement has now become mainstream in government, business and non-profit work.
Rather than replacing traditional face-to-face approaches to civic engagement, the Web has added new tools to the toolkit, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
[excerpt from Promising Practices in Online Engagement. download PDF]

Press release v.s the online media

Ragan Communications and Pollstream conducted a study and recently published a report about the importance of press releases. Ragan quote Vanessa Horwell, chief visibility officer for ThinkInk saying that between 55 percent to 97 percent of press releases sent to media outlets are never acted upon. Horwell observes that “we need to create interest first, but people keep pushing out press releases because companies think that the more they’re sending out, something’s going to stick”. The observation about creating interest is what is truly interesting in the context of the hype around social networking.

The press is undoubtedly a very important player in the formation of public opinion about anything! But, can it be argued that the demand for a particular news is now also affected by what bloggers and Facebookers are pushing? A Consumer Intelligence report published by market research organisation MRI shows that 16.1% of those aged 25-34 have visited a blog in the last 30 days. This is a very relevant portion, considering that 74.1% of the U.S. population uses the Internet. But blogs and social media generally also have a captive audience with a steady decrease in activity amongst higher age groups. Does the press pay attention to what’s going on in the online channels before deciding what goes to print? Should communications offices be more intelligent in combining press releases with research of what’s being said online and through active blogging?

And a word about how this fits in Gov 2.0!

Governments worldwide are blamed for not interacting enough – communication is seen to be one way (as with a press release!). The European Commission’s webpage about the eParticipation Information Day which took place in July hints that “perhaps voters feel … that their concerns and opinions are not being listened to or acted upon.” In a society where Governments are striving to give voters the right degree of involvement in the policy-shaping process, how should Governments use the press in best combination with the online social media? There is never one magic formula. But what makes a news item interesting is definitely that it is credible, well targeted and articulated in a way that makes its content valuable to its recipient.

The abovementioned Ragan report states that the study also shows that 45 percent of respondents believe that press releases are losing relevance because of the growth of social media. Furthermore, 23 percent blamed the decline on the demand for a more trustworthy and/or engaging information source. Does that mean that if Government communications offices used the social media better, they would recapture a sizeable portion of those who are hooked to newer media? Is social media more engaging? Does its open, interactive nature make it more trustworthy?

The press release is not dead and it won’t die but communication certainly needs to change!