Facebook’s Many Faces

The other day I found myself in a restaurant in northern Japan explaining to a South Korean acquaintance of less than a day how I divided my social networks up. LinkedIn, I said, was for people I needed to know, or who felt they need to know me. Facebook was for my friends — people I had known for a long time, family, I keep my Facebook world for my real world friends, I said. He nodded sagely before we were interrupted by two young Japanese from across the table who had just joined the throng. 

I dutifully rummaged round for my business cards for the time-honored ritual of using both hands to exchange cards and study them intently. Our new dinner companions, had no truck with that. We don’t have business cards, one of them said, whipping out his iphone. But give me your name and I’ll add you on Facebook. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this etiquette-wise, but turning him down was not an option. My Korean friend kindly avoided pointing out my hypocrisy as I dutifully helped my even newer friend add me to Facebook. Within the hour he had tagged me on several photos of diners other than myself, which in turn had been commented upon by at least 60 of his friends. All  of course, in Japanese. 

Welcome to the weird world of Facebook. Foolish people call it a nation, And if you glanced over the shoulder of anyone at an airport, in Starbucks, on a train, in the office, at  the familiar blue ribboned page as they check back in to their portable community, you might be forgiven for thinking they inhabit the same country. But it’s not and they don’t. It’s a reflection, an adaptation of the culture, or subculture, of the people who populate it, And while there’s perhaps more overlap than the physical world between those cultures, there’s still plenty of room for the culture shock of finding yourself in another part of the Facebook planet. Only there are no guidebooks and rules, just people trying to muddle through. Like me in that Sendai restaurant. 

This is of course both good and bad. I actually quite like having some folk on my Facebook page chattering away in a language I need Microsoft or Google to make sense of. But it doesn’t make us friends. And it does somewhat devalue the connection that Facebook builds to my real friends. Their updates get crowded out by the friends who aren’t really my friends. 

But the bigger point is this. Facebook is not homogenizing the world. In fact, it’s a mirror of the cultures from which we come. And by mirror I mean mirror. Take Facebook photos, for example: Researchers have found that Americans, despite being individualistic by nature, prefer to share photos of themselves in groups on Facebook. Compare this with China, or even Namibia, two societies considered group-oriented, where users are much more likely to share photos of themselves standing alone,, smart and polished, often not even against a background which might justify posting the photo. Researchers believe this is because of the desire in such societies to project a good image of themselves to the group. 

Go figure. It might help explain my Japanese friends and their business card etiquette. Perhaps for them the exchange of business cards is an intimate expression of trust, and the most obvious online equivalent of that is the Facebook friending.. I with my Western hypocrisy and shallowness make no such commitment with my business card exchange. Or maybe they’re just a subset of a of subset of a subculture that thinks business cards are silly and Facebook is cool. I have no idea. Facebook it seems, is as interesting and confusing to navigate as the real world. Thank God for that. 

Google charts a careful course through Asia’s maps

Here’s a piece I wrote to coincide with Google’s launch of Street View in Thailand: Google charts a careful course through Asia’s maps

Google rushed out its panoramic Street View maps in Thailand on Friday as part of the country’s efforts to show tourist hot spots have recovered from last year’s floods.
But it also marked something of a change of fortunes for Google itself, which has weathered several storms in Asia over its mapping products.
Google rolled out 360-degree images of the streets of Bangkok, the resort island of Phuket and the northern city of Chiang Mai. Street View allows users to click through a seamless view of streets via the company’s Google Maps website.
Google plans to use a tricycle-mounted camera to photograph places that can’t be reached by car, such as parks and monuments. The Tourism Authority of Thailand will launch a poll to choose which sites to photograph first.
“We really want to show that Thailand isn’t still underwater,” said David Marx, Google’s Tokyo-based communications manager. “People should see Thailand for what it is.”
Pongrit Abhijatapong, marketing information technology officer at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said it was less about showing that Thailand was back to normal.
“Rather, we hope tourists can see with their own eyes what Thailand is like. Street View will help their decision-making process in a positive way in regards to visiting Thailand.”
Google has not always been able to count on such enthusiasm elsewhere in Asia, illustrating the challenges the company has faced besides high-profile spats with China over privacy and India over removing offensive content.

Read the rest at Reuters.com.

Here are some links and bits and pieces I didn’t have room for:

Measures (Guidance) for Google, Inc. concerning Protection of “Secrecy of Communications”) – Japan’s Nov 11 2011 instructions to Google over privacy

Stefan Geens has done a great job charting the various sandbanks and undersea obstructions Google has encountered, particularly in Asia. His blog is well worth a read: Ogle Earth | Notes on the political and scientific impact of digital maps and geospatial imagery

I didn’t have enough space to go into detail about OpenStreetMap‘s challenge to Google, particularly in Asia. But in those parts of the region I know, it’s at least a match for Google, in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Afghanistan. Their annual conference, State of the Map, will be held for the first time in Asia this year, in Tokyo on September 6.

My thanks to Daniel Kastl for explaining OSM and Japan to me. I understand that Yahoo Japan and OSM are about to announce some sort of cooperation in the next few days.

One thing I didn’t point out in the story is that Google doesn’t always get there first when it comes to street-level panoramic mapping. In Singapore, for example, gothere.sg was ahead of them, both in mapping and 360-degree views, and remains in some ways better than Google Maps. Hong Kong-based MapJack has offered street-level maps of Thailand’s Phuket. Chiangmai and several other resorts, though not Bangkok, since 2008.

Facebook’s Asian Growth: Not Everywhere is North

I’ve seen some posts recently suggesting that Facebook is not doing well in Asia-Pacific. This, for example, from Forrester’s Reineke Reitsma:

For example, Facebook is struggling to gain ground in Asia Pacific:

With 58% of online adults accessing it, Orkut is the leading social platform in metropolitan India, while 27% of Japanese online adults use mixi; and in South Korea, Cyworld is most popular, attracting 63% of South Korean Internet users.

I won’t quarrel with her stats, but I’d suggest she’s missing a bigger picture: Facebook is growing at quite a clip in many Asian countries. My figures, based on Facebook data—which doesn’t include Japan and South Korea, admittedly–indicate that in 10 Asia-Pacific countries, Facebook membership has been growing at an average of nearly 9% per month for the past five months. That includes Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and India.

By far the biggest growth is in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia growing at 14% per month, Thailand 15%, Malaysia 12% and Philippines 13%.

India is growing at a similar rate, but with a far smaller proportion of population: still less than 1%. Thailand is less than 5%, but 10% of Indonesians now have a Facebook account, as do 23% of Malaysians, 14% of Filipinos and 42% of Singaporeans. Only Hong Kong beats that, with 44% of the population having a Facebook account.

Hong Kong and Singapore join other developed economies at reaching a critical mass—Australia 38%, New Zealand 36%—where growth has understandably tapered off to 5% per month or less.

So while it may well be true that Facebook ain’t big in North Asia, it’d be a mistake to assume that’s true of the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Facebook is still the one to watch, and showing consistent growth this year in all 10 countries I’m monitoring.

(This updates my post back in January on Facebook stats.)

Learning in the Open

Here’s a piece I wrote for the WSJ on open source education resources. It’s part of the free section of WSJ.com.

A revolution of sorts is sweeping education.

In the past few years, educational material, from handwritten lecture notes to whole courses, has been made available online, free for anyone who wants it. Backed by big-name universities in the U.S., China, Japan and Europe, the Open Education Resources movement is gaining ground, providing access to knowledge so that no one is “walled in by money, race and other issues,” says Lucifer Chu, a 32-year-old Taiwanese citizen and among the thousands world-wide promoting the effort. He says he has used about half a million dollars from his translation of the “Lord of the Rings” novels into Chinese to translate engineering, math and other educational material, also from English into Chinese.

The movement started in the late 1990s, inspired in part by the “open source” software movement, based on the notion computer programs should be free. Open-source software now powers more than half the world’s servers and about 18% of its browsers, according to TheCounter.com, a Web-analysis service by Connecticut-based Internet publisher Jupitermedia Corp. Behind its success are copyright licenses that allow users to use, change and then redistribute the software. Another inspiration was the proliferation of Web sites where millions share photos or write encyclopedia entries.

Free Online College Courses Are Proliferating – WSJ.com

The Future of News

This is the latest despatch from Loose Wire Service, a sister service to this blog that provides newspapers and other print publications with a weekly column by yours truly. Rates are reasonable: Email me if you’re interested.

Jeremy Wagstaff discusses how the Internet has redefined journalism and the emergence of “hyperlocal” news

The Jakarta Post
Sunday, September 30, 2007

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I was asked the other day to address a room full of media types about changes in consumer behavior; where, they wanted to know, are people looking for news in this new digital world?

It’s always a bad idea to get me to talk in public, especially on this subject, since I think it’s the wrong one. Or at least, the wrong way of looking at the subject. I gave them two reasons:

First, there are no consumers of news anymore. In fact, you’ve probably heard this said a lot, here and elsewhere that, in the era of MySpace, Wikipedia, OhmyNews and citizen journalism, everyone is a journalist, and therefore a producer, of news. No one is just a consumer.

Second, there is no news. Or at least there is no longer a traditional, established and establishment definition of what is news. Instead we have information. Some of it moving very fast, so it looks like news. But still information.

A commuter taking a photo of a policeman extracting bribes from drivers and then posting the picture on his blog? It’s not news, but it’s not just information either. It could be news to the policeman, and if he’s busted because of it could be good news to drivers in that town.

We journalists have been schooled in a kind of journalism that goes back to the days when a German called Paul Julius Reuter was delivering it by pigeon. His problem was a simple one: getting new information quickly from A to B. It could be stock prices; it could be the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

*****

That definition of news has remained with us until today.

A lot of the time it remains a good one. When terrorists hit, we’d rather know sooner than later. If stocks in our portfolio are losing their value in a crash, we’d prefer to get that information now.

When Buddhist monks hit the streets of towns in Myanmar we look to AFP, Reuters and AP to get the news out.

But the Internet has changed a lot of this. First off, everyone is connected. By connected I mean they can look up anything they like so long as they’re near an Internet-connected computer. Which for a lot of people now means a 3G phone.

Even if you don’t have one, the chances are you’ll be in spitting range of a computer that is connected to the Internet. Or you could get you information by SMS — from news sites, from colleagues, from family members. It’s not that we’re not far from a gadget. We’re not far from information.

This has a critical impact on the idea of news.

*****

Because we’re informed, news doesn’t hit us in the same way it used to when we didn’t.

True, if someone hits a tall building with an airliner, that’s news to all of us. The U.S. invades or leaves Iraq; that’s news.

But the rest of the time, news is a slippery beast that means different things to different people.

That’s because there’s another kind of news we’re all interested in. It’s hyperlocal news. It’s what is around us. In our neighborhood. Since moving house I’m much less interested in gubernatorial elections and much more in anything that anybody says about en bloc sales and house prices.

That is hyperlocal news, and it’s where most people spend their day. No nuclear weapons being fired? No terrorist attacks? No meltdown in the financial markets? OK, so tell me more about en bloc sales. Actually, this is just part of hyperlocal news.

If you’ve used Facebook, you’ll know there’s another kind of addictive local news: your friends’ status updates. A status update, for those of you who haven’t tried Facebook, is basically a short message that accompanies your profile indicating what you’re up to at that point.

I think of it a wire feed by real people. Of course it’s not news as we’d think of it, but news as in an answer to the questions “What’s up?” “What’s new?””What’s happening?” “What’s new with you?”

In that sense it’s news. I call it hyper-hyperlocal news. Even though those people are spread all over the world, they’re all part of my friends network, and that means for me they’re local.

So news isn’t always what we think of as news. News has always meant something slightly different to the nonmedia person; our obsession with prioritizing stories in a summary, the most important item first (How many dead? What color was their skin? Any Americans involved?) has been exposed as something only we tend to obsess over.

Don’t believe me? Look at the BBC website. While the editors were putting up stories about Musharraf, North Korea and Japan, the users were swapping stories about Britney Spears splitting with her manager, the dangers of spotty face, and the admittedly important news that the Sex Pistols might be getting back together.

Of course, I’m not saying journalists are from Mars and readers are from Venus. It just looks that way.

What we’re really seeing is that now that people have access to information, they are showing us what they’re interested in. Unsurprisingly, they’re interested in different stuff. What we call audience fragmentation — niche audiences for specialized interests — is actually what things have always been about.

If we’re a geek we go for our news to Slashdot. We want gossip? We go to Gawker. We want to change the world? We go to WorldChangingOnline.org The Internet makes the Long Tail of all those niche audiences and interests possible, and possibly profitable.

What we’re seeing with the Internet is not a revolution against the values of old media; a revolution against the notion that it’s only us who can dictate what is news.

What we’re seeing is that people get their news from whoever can help them answer the question they’re asking. We want the headlines, we go to CNN. But the rest of the time, “news” is for us just part of a much bigger search for information, to stay informed.

AsiaMedia :: Oh my! The future of news

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The Big Chill

 Freeman and Ferguson in a tank

Football (OK, soccer) is pushing to the forefront of adopting interesting technologies. Here’s one I hadn’t heard from Bolton Wanderers, where players enter a chamber at minus 120 degrees Celsius to enhance muscle recovery after training. It’s called cryotherapy, according to the Daily Mail:

The technique was originated in Japan in 1978 to help arthritis sufferers and patients with joint conditions. In time, athletes claimed it enhanced muscle recovery and reduced muscle pain. [Bolton’s new head of sports science and medicine Richard] Freeman said: “It’s made from liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen mixed to the right proportion to become liquid synthetic air. It’s quite safe despite the temperatures.

“It’s still in its infancy but players benefit. It’s like stretching before a game. There’s little scientific evidence why it works but it clearly does. The players like it and feel they benefit. After a heavy training session, a weights session or an intense game, they feel better quicker and it has been shown to improve muscle structure and muscle function.

Cryotherapy, according to Wikipedia, stretches from applying an ice pack to this chamber approach, which is properly called cryogenic chamber therapy:

The chamber is cooled, typically with liquid nitrogen, to a temperature of –110 C. The patient is protected from acute frostbite with socks, gloves and mouth and ear protection, but in addition to that, wears nothing but a bathing suit. The patients spends a few minutes in the chamber. During treatment the average skin temperature drops 12 C, while the coldest skin temperature can be 5 C. The core body temperature remains unchanged during the treatment, while after it, it may drop slightly. Curiously enough, some patients compare the feeling to sauna at +110 C. Release of endorphins occurs, resulting in analgesia (immediate pain relief).

Want one of your own? Buy the CryoCabin CYRODOC from the Zwolle-based company of the same name:

Treatment in the CRYODOC CryoCabin takes only 3 minutes at a temperature of -130 Cº to -150 Cº , producing several important salutary effects throughout the body: energy boost, skin regeneration and rejuvenation, protection against fading skin, strengthening of the immune system, fighting stress and chronic fatigue, increased metabolic rate, weight reduction, fighting cellulite, pain reduction, and generally improving the overall state of health.

I’ll spare you some of the more graphic pictures on their website (think cellulite and elbow rash. But I like the way this lady’s earrings twinkle in her CryoCabin:

image
Come in, the air is lovely

Why giving players the cold shoulder – and everything else – is keeping Bolton Poles apart | the Daily Mail

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How to Really Read Blogs

People often ask me what blogs to read. So I thought I’d put together some thoughts on why some blogs are better than others, and how to get the most out of the blogs that you do read. There are five basic rules:

Rule #1: A blog isn’t a publication. It’s a person

Joi1The thing about blogs is that the most interesting ones are interesting because of the people who write them and the people who read them. You’ll find that while you’re drawn to a writer because of his/her interest in a particular subject, quite often they’ll write about something else which you’re also interested in. Take a guy called Joi Ito, for example, who is a Japan-based entrepreneur and investor in tech companies. Joi is a fascinating guy and his blog makes for great reading. But it’s not always about tech stuff. One post I read recently was about his reading a book by a woman called Betty Edwards about learning to draw. Joi is no artist, but this book was recommended to him as a way of relaxing. Now I know the book, and I know what he’s talking about. And because I like what he has to say about technology, I’m happy to read about his thoughts on meditation and drawing.

Rule #2: Never read someone who is “excited” about everything

Blogs don’t have to be brutally honest, but they can’t be fake. What makes Joi’s comments about drawing interesting is not just the fact that he has credibility in a field I care about (tech) but because what he writes is frank and, well, real. He’s not your average CEO type talking about how much money he’s invested in stuff and how excited he is by everything. We all have our ups and downs and they should be reflected in our blogs (I don’t do enough of this, to be honest. There, I’m being frank about not being frank enough.) The point is this: If we’re interested in reading someone’s thoughts on a subject, chances are we’re interested in their more life-oriented thoughts and experiences too. Without overdoing, it of course: I am very interested in Joi’s musings, but if he starts cutting his toe nails on his blog, even metaphorically speaking, I might not stick around.

Rule #3: Let a million flowers bloom, and then read them

Blogs thrive on the ability for readers to add comments. A great blog will have great, thoughtful readers, who add their comments on each article, or post. These comments will appear one after the other at the bottom of each post. Sometimes the comments are more interesting than the original article. Sometimes they’re not. But they’re definitely worth reading if you found the original article interesting. Joi’s post on drawing elicited a handful of comments which really added to the topic, especially after Joi added his comments to the comments. This is what the techie world calls a conversation. It’s not unlike a real conversation, actually, so it’s a good term.

Rule #4: Come in, the water’s lovely

If you’re reading blogs that interest you then you will quickly feel that you have some opinion to share. Share it. Still a startlingly small number of people comment on blogs but you really should. Chances are other people will love what you have to say, especially if you express it in a neutral way, as if you were joining a group of friendly looking people at a party. Of course, you have the advantage of knowing what they were already talking about before you sidled up, so be sure to read the original article and comments before throwing in your tupennies’ worth.

Rule #5: Follow the trail

Chances are if you like one person’s blog, you’ll like the blogs they read and the blogs they link to. Experiment. Try adding more blogs to your list of favorites and see whether you like them. If a couple of boring or off-color posts appear, you can always remove the feed from your list.

Remember: with blogs it’s not so much what you read, as who you read, and how you read ‘em.

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When Services Go Pro, Reach for Your Gun

Alarming and confusing news and views concerning Skype’s announcement of its new pricing strategy. Here’s a summary.

Key elements trumpeted in Skype’s press release (the most detailed information is here, courtesy of SkypeJournal):

  • Premium subscription package called Skype Pro, which includes free Skype Voicemail (€15 previously) and €30 off a SkypeIn number (previously €30). Cost: €2 per month
  • Removes per minute charges for SkypeOut calls (i.e. calls to ordinary phones) so long as they’re landlines and to the same country you’re in at the time of calling. I.e: unlimited calling, so long as it’s not to mobile phones.
  • Every SkypeOut (and I think SkypeIn) call, whether it’s to voicemail or not, incurs a separate connection fee of 0.039 Euro, excl VAT (5 U.S. cents). (This does not apply to existing unlimited calling plans if you’re calling within your specific country.)
  • Some SkypeOut destinations have been reduced (about seven, including Malaysia) for Skype Pro users to the Global Rate of 1.7 cents per minute).

Skype claims this option “offers our users more for less because they can buy additional Skype paid for products but for a smaller cost”. The service will be phased in from now in Europe, and, for now, will be available alongside the traditional service. (For Asian readers, Hong kong, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia are next.)

What does this mean for you? Well, of course it depends on what kind of user you are, and where you’re calling.

  • You’re going to be paying more per call than you were before, because of the connection fee.
  • If you’re an international caller, it’s going to be harder to calculate your potential savings/losses. I must confess I’m still trying to figure this out.
  • Jean Mercier, based in Belgium, has done some sums on his calling habits, and concludes that “occasional SkypeOut users will pay for the heavy SkypeOut users”. In other words, if you don’t use it a lot, you’ll end up paying more than you would before. HIs conclusion: “I really am astounded, and not in a positive way!”
  • Olga Kharif at BusinessWeek says it’s part of general raising of VOIP rates. “Sure, they need to find a way to make money. But I think raising prices is a big mistake. In the past, users switched to VoIP because it was the cheapest calling option around. When it’s no longer that, customers might no longer hurry to abandon their traditional telecom services providers for upstarts.”
  • Phil Wolff of SkypeJournal says you’ll be better off if you SkypeOut an average 4.3 minutes per day, or a couple of hours per month. This does not seem to include the connection fee in the calculation, however, and may not be relevant for international calls. I’m checking this with Phil.
  • For Paul Kapustka of GigaOM, the reasons behind the move are simple: Skype is in trouble. “Just add some cash to the bottom line, quickly! For customers, the question is — do you want eBay to be your phone company?”
  • PhoneBoy says that “what they are really doing is raising the price”.

My conclusions: Skype has been a revolution for a lot of my readers and friends who aren’t usually all that enamoured of technology. They’ve bought a headset, got a cable connection, installed the software, bought some credits, all because of the savings Skype offers. Many of them also enjoy the benefits of being online in a buddy list.

But what if Skype is no longer the cheapest option? Or if they feel they’re being lied to by press releases that are less than forthcoming about the real deal? Will they turn their newfound confidence in technology to switch to something cheaper and take all their buddies with them?

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Asia’s Obsession With Lists

Last week the WSJ asked me to dig around for sites in Asia-Pacific that are building on the new Obsession with List making, as reported by Katherine Rosman. Here is the result (subscription only), and are some of the sites I came up with. I’d love to hear more from readers, as I’m sure I’ve missed lots.

  • China’s answer to 43thingsAimi — looks a lot like it, right down to the colors and design. Compare 43things
     
    with Aimi:
  • Japan has been more creative, with some pretty cool looking sites including Ultra Simple Reminder, check*pad and ReminderMailer.
  • Australia’s reminder service Remember the Milk is Big in Japan — 15,000 active Japanese users have signed up since its launch in July. Omar Kilani, the guy behind it, tells me “the service is also available in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese and we have a soon-to-be launched Korean version as well.” I’ll keep you posted on that.
  •  Jon Anthony Yongfook Cockle, a 26-year-old Briton based in Tokyo, has developed a very cool, simple reminder page called OrchestrateHQ, where users can enter quick reminders in either English or Japanese. He’s also about to launch a suite of simple Web-based applications called Jonkenpon (nothing up there at the time of writing).
  • Lastly, from the guys at Alien Camel, a new service called Monkey On Your Back which allows users to make a to-do list for things that they want other people to do:
     
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