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250,000 secret US embassy cables have been published by Wikileaks and some of the most influential and respected newspapers in Europe and in the US have made the choice of conveying this scoop. What can we learn? So far not a lot: “Teflon Merkel” is risk averse, Sarkozy is a “naked emperor”, Putin’s nickname is alpha dog. And many other similar futile pieces of gossip.

For the apostles of transparency this publication serves the most legitimate purpose in a democracy which is to tell the whole truth. On newspapers’ websites, most readers heartily approve of the enterprise: this is the revenge of the people on the establishment and Julian Assange (spokesman of Wikileaks) has given it a damn good thrashing. “They” cannot fool us anymore.

This is a sad and fruitless development which, again, sacrifices analysis against gross information and sensationalism.

People claim their right to know. Fair enough. But what kind of knowledge is offered today? Is it really important to inform the world about how governmental officials depict national leaders amongst themselves? Should we, as citizens, have a right and a duty to check and approve every e-mail sent by our governmental administrations? That seems absolute madness to me.

Total transparency does not necessarily mean total democracy –  it is rather a result of total mistrust. This is unfortunately the situation today. The information making the headlines is not intended to help readers better understand international politics nor does it reveal some kind of massive and reprehensible fraud. It only aims to discredit governmental institutions on the excuse that “we all ought to be informed”.

I refuse this information because, sincerest apologies, I trust more the competency and professionalism of the politicians whom we elect and their teams of specialised diplomats in conducting our countries’ diplomacy than the one of my neighbours. This is what we call representative democracy.

Maxime

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This is not enough...think before you post! (image by The Lobby)

Ars Technica yesterday ran a story about how a woman in Canada, suffering from severe depression, had her sick leave coverage pulled by her insurance company, Manulife, after seeing pictures of her at a party on facebook.

This kind of situation is nothing new; prospective employers today are known to look at facebook profiles ahead of interviewing candidates, so it is more than likely that insurance companies do the same. But this situation is very different – the lady in question, Nathalie Blanchard – posted pictures of her own birthday party on a private section of her facebook profile, i.e. only accessible to certain individuals. Her insurance company, according to the article, decided that “people diagnosed with depression are incapable of having fun for even short periods of time, because Manulife pulled Blanchard’s benefits with no notice. When she called to inquire about the checks, Manulife said she appeared to be “available to work” thanks to Facebook.”

The author of this post uses the same setup. Posted pictures are private, and only a handful of contacts can access them. So how did her insurance company, Manulife, get hold of these pictures? There are ways of accessing private pictures, even deleted pictures, but that’s another debate in itself. The worrying trend here is that companies, insurance companies in particular, are using social media to gather intelligence on its customers.

So, just to recap, as has been said and written over and over again – don’t upload pictures that you don’t want to be spread around. With reports of politicians, Commission officials, MEPs (and their assistants etc) using Twitter, facebook, and surely Flickr, there is a lesson to be learnt here. To use a term coined by the world’s number one spook agency, the ‘blowback’ that can result from pictures on social media networks can (will?) be much greater for a political figure compared to an ordinary citizen…

It’s simple really. Think before you post (and please, also, think before you tag).

Emil

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The Lobby is honoured to present you with the “Kosovo Nation Branding Campaign” – currently available on YouTube (see video inset at the end of this post) and soon to be broadcast on television portraying a new image of this still heavily disputed new nation, which is after all, just round the corner from many of us.

The campaign shows the Kosovo Government’s brave attempts to break with the negative image the world has of this Balkan country, especially given how fresh the war in Kosovo still is in many people’s minds.

The video portrays an image of a young and vibrant, beautiful nation, against the backdrop of a tune gently reminding us that “it is time to start over”

As presented in the clip, the country’s new slogan is ‘Kosovo, the young Europeans’, as they are the youngest European state. Nonetheless, the bright new nation is yet to be recognised as such by the majority of countries across the globe. Although the US and many EU member states have recognised the country since its unilateral declaration of independence of Serbia in early 2008, other world powers such as China and Russia have not.

For what it is worth, the video is definitely inspiring.

– Lieneke

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Egypt’s official language is Arabic†. China’s official language is Chinese*. OK fine, we knew that. But isn’t it a bit ironic that more than half of the world’s 1.6 billion internet users speak languages with non-Latin scripts, yet all internet domain names are written in Latin characters?

This is about to change, and it is already being hailed as the biggest change in the 40-year history of the internet. ICANN (see ‘Yes we can, says ICANN: new top-level domains coming in 2010‘) the body that regulates the internet, has announced plans to allow for so-called Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) by changing the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) in order to allow for website names to be written with non-Latin scripts such as Chinese, Cyrillic, and Arabic.

The Lobby thinks this sounds great – the more the merrier, but some have warned that this will only lead to fragmentation of the net…

The new IDNs will be introduced some time in 2010.

– Emil


† Standard Arabic

* Standard Mandarin (spoken) & simplified Chinese (written)

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Yesterday’s purchase of FriendFeed by Facebook may well have opened the first episode of a new war on internet search engines. How come?

Today, Google is known to be the premier search engine of the web. Whatever you may be looking for on the web, chances are that you will ‘google it’.Facebook acquires FriendFeed

The development of micro-blogging and other social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook, have given value to a new, non-conventional type of information which is produced on the spot by internet users. This ‘real-time information’ is shared instantly to the millions other users who are connected through the network of the platform.

Twitter has managed to sort the flow of information through a search engine which allows users to read instantly what is said on a specific issue. But FriendFeed goes one step further. It proposes a service which aggregates online feeds of content that the user and his friends have shared on other collaborative sites such as facebook, flickr, you tube, twitter, etc. FriendFeed’s search engine therefore looks for real-time information on all the networks on which users share content – basically it allows you to know what is happening right now on any given subject (the outcome of a vote in a parliamentary Committee for instance!)

And there seems to lie the bright and successful future. As Ben Parr, Associate Editor of the blog Mashable, comments: ‘with this acquisition, Facebook is gunning directly not only at Twitter, but at Google. This is a warning shot to those two companies’. Who will triumph in the war of the social platforms?

– Maxime

On Saturday Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times published an article that has made the rounds of the blogosphere in quite some fashion (a Google blog search for the article generates just over 14,900 hits). The article “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley” is a well-researched and timely piece about how public relations (PR) execs in Silicon Valley propel new tech start-ups not by issuing press releases and calling up journalists – rather they court Web gurus, influential bloggers, and Twitter users.

The article mentions a few interesting examples, for instance, Brew Media Relations, the firm that began representing the popular photo-sharing site Flickr in 2004, never issued a press release for it, even when it was acquired by Yahoo. Ms Hammerling of Brew Media Relations explains “Flickr would publish news on its company blog, a few more blogs would pick it up, and two days later Business Week would call”.

But the piece does not tell the full story of the fundamental revolution PR is presently undergoing, as Brian Solis of FutureWorks aptly points out on his blog PR2.0. Solis explains how PR, particularly in Silicon Valley, is “much more potent than most entrepreneurs, investors, and executives realize”. He also stresses the degree to which PR today is under-appreciated and misunderstood. PR is not about ‘pushing’ news, rather it is about creating relationships “with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend a story, intentions, value, and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities, and empowering advocates over time”.

Granted, Silicon Valley is more conducive to ‘new’ PR strategies, tools, and approaches, than say Brussels, for instance, but this should not stand in the way of PR innovation in a more ‘traditional’ arena such as the EU heartland. While there are excellent initiatives and a clear momentum towards true recognition of new PR (for example, in this year’s European Public Affairs Awards there is a new category for best Web 2.0 campaign), Brussels’ agencies are seriously lagging behind their US and continental competitors and partners. Yes, there are agencies that feature polished blogs (see Fleishman Hillard’s Public Affairs 2.0, ZN’s HyperThinker or our very own The Lobby) and there are trade associations that are successfully using Twitter or facebook (see Enviro.aero or Pesticide Information) but that’s about it. Brussels agencies are keen and the tools are all around us, but it remains to be seen whether Brussels and its opaque institutions are ready for them.

I challenge you to name a single senior Brussels PR executive who has 6 influential bloggers and 4 prolific Twitter users on speed-dial rather than 10 members of the Brusssels press corps (and who is willing to take his or her story to them rather than to the press)?

– Emil

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Social media defy non-democratic authorities, but they are also changing the way we assess truth and reality. In Iran and in China, social media platforms such as Youtube and Twitter have allowed insiders to widely diffuse snapshot views of critical situations, providing the rest of the world with more diverse and personal portrayals of reality than any traditional (most likely censored) media.

Tweets and Youtube movies on the recent events in Iran or in China demonstrate that the assessment of truth and reality is increasingly driven by the diversity of personal views, whether they be timely, contradictory, or emotional. It is precisely this diversity which is valued, and is why social networks are so significant today. “Everything is miscellaneous” writes the American internet commentator David Weinberger, “no matter who is right – there is more truth in differences than in any fact taken individually”.

– Maxime

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Yesterday Geerdi Verbeet, President of the Dutch lower house of parliament, told off Members for twittering during parliamentary debates. According to Dutch media agency ANP, Verbeet has spoken to certain MPs and asked them, out of courtesy, to focus on the debates rather than posting messages on social media platforms.

While the debate on whether it is bad manners to check emails during meetings on Blackberries, iPhones and other portable devices rages on, Twitter usage is growing exponentially among teens and politicians alike (apparently Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen is also on Twitter). Another case in point is the recently launched Swedish Presidency website featuring a small group of staffers that tweet under the heading of ‘Voices from the Swedish Presidency’. One of the Swedish micro-bloggers Gunnar Caperius (Twitter username: G_Caperius) clearly tweets during lunches and meetings, if not, at least in-between meetings.

Is this so bad? Personally the Lobby likes it as we get a feel for how Gunnar works, where’s he’s going to/from, how discussions on a specific topic are progressing, and we are even kept up to date when he is having to wait for the President of Mexico. Just as checking emails during meetings has now become commonplace, so will twittering (it basically is already).

The Lobby say go with it! Capitalise on what digital solutions can do for your business, your political campaign, your relationships with far flung friends and for keeping in touch with tomorrow’s talent – the kids are all doing it after all.

– Emil and Bilyana

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We’ve seen it all before. Susan Boyle, the Mentos + Diet Coke experiment, the Star Wars kid, and MEP Daniel Hannan – they’re excellent examples of concepts going viral, propelling their protagonists and or content to international ‘fame’ in a matter of days.

Now it has happened again, but this time on Amazon.com. In the last few weeks, sales of a kitschy t-shirt depicting three wolves and a moon have shot up 2,300 %(!) after comments on the online retailer’s website went viral. Amazon user ‘Bee-Dot-Govern’ posted the first review of the t-shirt stating “Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women” but “cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed”. This comment helped generate another 454 reviews, many of them ironic, and these have in turn been read by 5,831 readers (figures at the time of writing) effectively making the shirt go viral.

Viral marketing is for many marketers the Holy Grail (making something go viral is easier said than done though). It’s high time MEPs and MEP candidates start thinking about their electorate in a different manner. Just as marketers try to identify individuals with a high Social Networking Potential (SNP) and create viral messages tailored to this segment of consumers in the hope of giving their messages a higher probability of being passed along, so should MEPs.

Generation Z is growing up quickly and politicians will pay dearly if they ignore these digital-natives. It’s time to re-think the traditional campaign poster…

– Emil

(UPDATE 18/06/09: Presently the number of reviews have risen to 1,094 and the number of  people having seen the reviews to 10,754)

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As news and speculation about the election fallout (and deadly protests) in Iran is spreading across the ether, there is another story well worth noting.

According to the LA Times, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in a blog post yesterday that the Twitter website’s scheduled maintenance would be delayed from overnight Pacific time (daytime in Iran) to afternoon Pacific time (in the middle of the night in Iran).

Twitter’s service is based on communication networks run by NTT America, and Stone noted in his post that NTT America “recognise the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran” and that they were taking a “huge risk not just for Twitter but also the other services they provide worldwide”.

As mentioned previously on The Lobby (see The Great Firewall of China blocks the blogosphere) social media platforms, Twitter in particular, is defying censorship all over the world while investors and analysts are debating how the 140-character text service is going to generate money.

The very latest on Twitter (at the time of writing) is that Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, is ready to re-count specific presidential election ballot boxes. The re-count may apparently lead to a change in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tally.

Memories of 1979 are already coming to mind…

– Emil

(UPDATE 17/06/09: The New York Times reports that the delayed maintenance stemmed from a US State Department request, addressed to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey)

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