The SIG-III Blog

Notes from the ASIS&T special interest group in international information

Archive for August 2007

The African blogosphere part II – Kenya

Kenya provides a great individual case study of the African blogosphere, as there has been a lot happening there in terms of developing Internet access and localized Kenyan content in 2007. Despite halting progress, The Kenyan government is working on securing more widespread Internet access through an undersea fiberoptic cable, and has received money from the World Bank to facilitate this connection (Duncan, are there any more details you can provide?)
In addition to this online community and aggregator, the Kenyan blogosphere is extensive and vibrant. Started July 5, 2004, the Kenyan Blog Webring is a portal to the Kenyan blogosphere with an impressive breadth of coverage and a vibrant community comprised of individual bloggers. Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, offers an excellent summary of KBW’s activities and role in giving Kenyans a voice online. He writes that

Since its birth, KBW has been able to bring to a global audience gigabytes of voices, opinions, news, knoweldge and debates from the Kenyan blogosphere.

Writing on his own personal blog, KBW administrator Daudi Were declared 2007 to be “the year of emergence,” where KBW solidified its position as an Internet institution in Kenya. He says,

The most frequent support question we would be asked in the Admin Team during the first two years was, “Why should I start a blog?” or “What is a blog?” or variations on that theme.

In the last year we mainly get asked, “I have a blog, how do I join the webring?” or “How do I get your aggregator to syndicate my content?” or variations on that theme. They “why” and “what” questions are decreasing, the “how” questions are increasing.

That is a good sign and KBW members have played a big role in convincing Kenyans to blog. These days when someone asks me why they should blog I simply point them to the KenyaUnlimited aggregator. I can almost guarantee you that they will read something that they either agree with whole heartedly or disagree with completely, that fuels an urge in them to get to a keyboard and start typing to contribute to the debate.

In response, Sokari from Black Looks adds her thanks that KBW has played the role that it has played for the past three years.

Beyond the KBW itself, certain individual blogs offer a constantly updated view of the Kenyan blogosphere and/or current issues facing the Kenyan people. In response to a perception that Kenyan government officials have begun trying to enrich themselves at the expense of the Kenyan people – a perception fueled by such events as police raids of Kenyan media outlets last year and police force directed at protesters protesting and attempt by the Kenyan parliament to award themselves pay raises, as well as protests against a law to restrict media freedom proposed by the parliament – Ory Okolloh and a blogger who goes by the name of “M” started Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that publishes updates on the activities of the Kenyan parliament. This project grabbed attention around the Internet, from the BBC to Ethan Zuckerman’s widely read blog. In fact Mzalendo received enough media attention both in Kenya and around the world that at least one Kenyan official has used the site to explain his rationale in voting as he did in parliament.

And no, not all blogs in Kenya are about technology, Internet access, and current issues. Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, lists KenyanMusings as a blog of interest. KenyanMusings is a blog kept by a 25 year old lady in Nairobi who writes about her daily life, much the way a young blogger in Milwaukee or Tulsa might. Reading through her blog I found a lot of fluff, but I found her writing to be an interesting street-level view of life in Nairobi – similar to many of my friends blogs here in the U.S., but with a definite African perspective added to the mix.

This blogosphere activity has spawned a Kenyan information technology group, BarCamp Kenya, which has weekly meetings to discuss information and technology related issues and maintains a blog called Skunkworks. Google has taken notice of this activity, and had one of their employees featured in a BarCamp Kenya discussion.

Other types of Kenyan Internet community services are also developing themselves. Hash writes about Mashada, an online community, message board, and blog aggregator based in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. As Hash says,

…This is one of the best community sites coming out of Africa today. It’s got a very healthy community of active users that make it their daily destination for conversation and news.

As Daudi Were noted, 2007 has been (and continues to be) a year of massive growth for the Kenyan blogosphere. And as it continues to grow in coming years, so will its ability to tell the stories of Kenyans to a global audience.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

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Written by sigiii

August 16, 2007 at 4:05 am

The African blogosphere – more extensive than you might think

South Africa seems to have a ton of social networking services – see Uno de Waal’s blog post listing some of them. Yet aside from South Africa, I only know of one other African-born social network, mykenyanspace.com, and even this network is not actually hosted in Kenya. Apparently it is hosted in the U.S. and directed to Kenyans – see a description of it here. (Of course if there is a large African social network that I am somehow missing exists, let me know! Add a comment!)

It may be tempting to conclude that this absence of social networking is a product of fewer resources, fewer Internet connections, and less training with the use of technology, but reality is more complicated than this. It is true that each of these factors has hindered the development of social media in Africa, but in spite of these factors many Africans have begun experimenting with social connection tools. My observation is that while social networking is still limited in Africa, the African blogosphere is really taking off. The number of African bloggers may still be small compared to the total populations of nations in Africa, but the African blogosphere is extremely vibrant and active, and seems to be growing at an exponential pace.

There are some excellent pan-African blogging tools that have been deployed within the past year. For example, Afrigator is an excellent blog aggregator indexing over 1000 blogs on Africa. Muti is similar to Digg, where news stories are promoted or demoted by Muti readers. News and African culture blogs such as African Path have begun reporting throughout Africa, and special interest news sites such as Pambazuka report on different topics (in Pambazuka’s case, social justice in Africa). Last but not least, Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, discusses African Signals a podcast on African information and development issues he recently started, as well as AfriGadget, a site dedicated to the use of technology (including simple technology – not always computer based) to solve problems that different communities in Africa face.

(As an aside, Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, conducted an excellent interview with Joshua Wanyama, a co-founder of African Path. Many of Wanyama’s thoughts on the African blogosphere and the future of blogging in Africa are worth quoting at length:

I anticipate a rise of blogging. Citizen media will continually grow. I think we will start seeing a more concerted effort to provide expertise in an area or a model that can allow for bloggers to earn an income by sharing their knowledge. More than that, blogging allows anyone to leverage their knowledge and potentially create a reputation that can give them a better chance at landing a prime job, improving your business or creating a following that can lead to political positions.

I also think a move to mobile technologies will improve the offerings for bloggers. Cell phones are really the access points for information in Africa. There exists some opportunity for entrepreneurs who can develop systems to serve content from news and blogging software to mobile phones in a package. I think we will keep seeing pilot programs and finally real products that will offer such services…

Africans should really care about blogging. Other than localized newspapers, one can’t access news generated by Africans featuring issues specific to them. We need that. Blogging provides access to alternative sources of news and stories that are important to Africans.

The need for African news generated by Africans goes back to creating our own identity and stories. When a western media house reports, on Africa, it is all blood, gore, famine, crime and other negative images. For them, a positive image is tourism. Africans have a lot more than just these issues. We need to hear about a farmer who has created a better way of tilling the land that has enabled the village to have a surplus of maize, or the lady who built a company employing 20 people from good fiscal management and hard work. These are the stories that make Africa wonderful. The hope that all Africans have in abundance is lost in the media and this leads to a negative connotation and identity for Africans. We have to take back our stories for future generations will love to hear what we had to say and actually see it as our own perspective and none other.)

On the topic of who narrates African stories (Africans themselves or others writing about Africa), Afrigator draws from blogs all over the world writing about Africa. Gargoyle on the other hand is a blog search engine that indexes African blogs specifically. The South African Mail & Guardian observes that Sokari Ekine’s widely read, pan-African blog Black Looks “is – unfortunately – one of the handful of African blogs to turn up in the top 10 (sometimes top 15) blogs in a Technorati search of their blog directory when using the search word ‘Africa.’”

Responding in particular to the Mail & Guardian’s observation, Ndesanjo Macha writes about Gargoyle, an African response to the Technorati blog search engine. He quotes Mike Stopforth’s positive reactions to Gargoyle:

It’s frighteningly quick. Warranted, I’m on a 1Mbps ADSL line at home, but if this is how fast Gargoyle can deliver meaningful (and quality) results, it’ll be my very first stop when searching within the SA blogosphere – something I’ve needed to do before and will most certainly need to do in future…

It’s not pretty, but that will come. It has the bells and whistles – an RSS feed for every search as an example, a feature I simply love (from an online reputation management perspective).

This site could very quickly become the standard alternative (or augmentation) to Technorati indexing for African bloggers. Well done on what seems to be a very solid platform.

In sum, the African blogosphere is generating a lot of activity. But in addition to the pan-African blog tools, individual African nations – Kenya and South Africa in particular, but others as well – are generating a lot of blogosphere and social media content. I will write about individual parts of Africa in a later post!

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 16, 2007 at 3:53 am

Global social networking

Did you know that Americans do not have the largest social networking communities in the world? According to market research by Ipsos, America comes in fifth place in terms of number of people connected to a social network – South Korea comes in first. According to Ipsos,

Leading all other markets in its love affair with social networking is South Korea, as half (49%) of all adults in this country have visited at least one of these websites in the past, while over half of all online adults have visited a social networking website in the past 30 days… In comparison, about one in five American adults (24%) have ever visited a social networking website.

The chart they include is the best part of this announcement. It points to South Korea and Brazil as being the most active social networkers, with China and Mexico closer to the U.S. but still more active than American social networkers. (additional reports about these findings here, here, and here).

Furthermore, According to research by comScore, a company that measures Internet use statistics, different services gain and maintain popularity in different regions of the world. While social networking in the U.S. is dominated by MySpace and FaceBook, Latin and South America (Brazil in particular) primarily use Orkut, and the Asia/Pacific region uses Friendster first and foremost, and Orkut as a numerically solid alternative. As the comScore press release notes,

MySpace.com (62 percent) and Facebook.com (68 percent) attract approximately two-thirds of their respective audiences from North America. That said, each has already amassed a large international visitor base and both appear poised to continue their global expansion. Bebo.com has a particularly strong grasp on Europe, attracting nearly 63 percent of its visitors from that region, while Orkut is firmly entrenched in Latin America (49 percent) and Asia-Pacific (43 percent). Friendster also attracts a significant proportion of its visitors (89 percent) from the Asia-Pacific region.

And ironically, all the companies in the comScore study are American. Some have just wound up being more popular in other countries besides America. But are there social networking services born in other countries, which cater to people in those countries? Absolutely.

Danah Boyd has provided a (partial) list of foreign social networks, as well as the languages in which they are published and the number of profiles each has. She lists

Cyworld (Korea)

Mixi (Japan)

QQ (China). Here is a link to the English version of QQ, which has a South African web address and a much cleaner appearance than the Chinese site.

Hevre (Israel)

Lunarstorm (Sweden). British version here.

StudiVZ (Germany). StudiVZ has mirror sites in French, Italian, and Polish, as well as a Spanish language version targeting South America, but no English version.

Her commenters have listed still more services – one pointed in particular to this list, which lists many non-American services. All told I’ve looked at perhaps 30 to 50 non-American social networking services, some of whom claim tens of millions of users.

And yes, foreign social networks can look different from American ones, and people of different nationalities may use them differently from people in the U.S. or discuss topics that wouldn’t reach an American audience. For example Hevre, an Israeli site, looks like this:

Image of Hevre, an Israeli social network

La Zona, a music industry oriented social network maintained by MTV Latin America, looks much closer to American social networks than Hevre does, but even then (to my mind at least) this site has a distinctly more Latin American appearance than a U.S.-based social network.

Image of La Zona, a Latin American social network

In terms of how people in different countries use social networks differently than people in the U.S., Forrester Research’s Vice President and Principal Analyst Charlene Li wrote a report on Mixi that noted certain cultural differences in how Japanese people network with each other. I found these characteristics of particular interest:

Invitation-only participation. Most of the Mixi users I spoke with said that they use Mixi only to connect with their friends. The most used feature – the “diary”. They update their own and frequently check their friends’ diaries. While essentially a blog, many users don’t consider it one, as it’s really only for their friends.

Anonymous profiles. As a rule, the Japanese don’t use their real names on their profiles. While this is also often true in North America, I found it interesting that users made it a point to tell me that they didn’t use their real names. Also, very few of the Mixi users I spoke with said that they had ever interacted with people they did not know, the complete opposite of the behavior usually found on MySpace.

Heavily mobile-based. Several users told me that text messaging updates actually facilitated participation as they were more comfortable writing than engaging in face-to-face conversations.

Structure. Unlike MySpace, Mixi is highly structured with minimal ability to change the layout. The users I spoke with liked the structure, as it created certainty about how users were to interact with each other.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, James Shih echoes Charlene’s thoughts about the structure of Mixi in this article. He notes that

MySpace, for example, has often been described as a “free-for-all” in which members can easily create multiple profiles, add their own programming and post other kinds of media, like pictures, music and videos… Mixi of Japan, however, has a much more structured approach. A person can join only if invited by current members. Personal profiles are based only on text, except for three photos (premium service allows more). Surprisingly, users do not seem to mind. In fact, most members do not post pictures of themselves, opting instead for photos of celebrities, scenery or pets.

This article continues by discussing Cyworld, which it says blends elements of virtual worlds (such as Second Life) with social networking:

Cyworld is yet another story. Personal profiles are dominated by the Miniroom, a 400- pixel-by-200-pixel space that users can decorate with digital furniture, wallpaper and other objects, much as they would decorate real rooms. An avatar, or a character representation referred to as Minime, is also in the room, and the user can change Minime’s clothes, hair and facial expression. In fact, users pay real money to buy the various virtual objects to spice up the lives of their Minimes.

By comparison to Japanese Mixi users, Chinese people are more willing to network with people they do not personally know – in fact they are even more willing to do this than American social networkers are. This chart from the eMarketer report I linked to above indicates that Chinese people are far more outgoing when it comes to social networking than their peers in Europe and the U.S., and the report itself adds that

Among adult Chinese broadband users, 80% had discussed hobbies or interests online via a social network, and 78% had used a social network to meet new people. Less than half of users in most other markets surveyed said they had used a social network for either of those purposes.

The internationalization of social networking has caught the attention of American services as well. MySpace in particular has branched out to other countries. They have dedicated this entire page to their global network, and generated media buzz such as this Victoria Shannon article in the Herald Tribune. But as to how successful these transplanted networks will or will not be among different demographic segments of the world’s population, Bob Ivins of comScore has the most pertinent observation. He notes that

A fundamental aspect of the success of social networking sites is cultural relevance… Those doing well in certain regions are likely doing an effective job of communicating appropriately with those regions’ specific populations. As social networking continues to evolve, it will be exciting to see if networks are able to cross cultural barriers and bring people from different corners of the globe together in fulfilling the truest ideals of social networking.

So I’ve just thrown a bunch of information at you. Now it’s your turn – I’d love to have your thoughts as a comment. Have you encountered the international sphere in your own social networking activities? If so, did you encounter any cultural differences you found particularly striking? If you met someone from a different country through your network, did s/he talk about his/her home country? If so, what did s/he say?

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 12, 2007 at 2:55 am

Why should we talk about (international) social networking?

There’s been an ongoing discussion about whether social networking is a passing fad or a form of connection that is here to stay – and if it is here to stay, how pervasive or inconsequential it will be, and what it will look like as social networking applications continue to develop and reinvent themselves.

The single most significant expression I’ve seen of this outstanding question comes from a discussion on the ACRLog, the blog of the Association of College and Research Libraries. In discussing David Bickford’s assertion in this thread that the 1970s notion of library service done over CB radio was a passing fad, Marc Meola asks if Web 2.0 services such as social networking are a fad or something that is here to stay. Two people responded that certain aspects of Web 2.0 are fads while other aspects will stick around. But a recently minted librarian named Michael C. Habib commented that

MySpace and Facebook are 2.0 as it gets and it would be hard to argue that they have only been picked up by tech geeks. Those services also incorporate blogging, commenting, and photo sharing. Wikipedia, E-Bay, and Craigslist are also 2.0 as it gets. These are just a couple of examples, but the idea is that 2.0 is already mainstream and well entrenched in peoples daily use of the internet. Sites like Flickr might point to a newer breed of 2.0 technologies, but 2.0 is here to stay.

Agreeing with Habib, I wrote that

As the introduction of the Internet to a mass audience in the 1990s showed, it is in a library’s interest to pay attention to disruptive technologies. I would rather be guilty of paying attention to a fad than missing out on the “next big thing” — and 2.0 continues to demonstrate day by day that it is anything but a passing fad.

Other voices have echoed this thought when discussing social networking services explicitly. Forrester Research’s Vice President and Principal Analyst Charlene Li famously described social networking as being “like air.” Jenny Levine at the Shifted Librarian wrote in March of this year that

Hopefully it is becoming clearer that we [as LIS professionals] need to pay attention to virtual worlds because they are going to be a part of our collective, professional future. It’s up to each of us individually how much of a role it will play in our personal lives, just as we make decisions about books, television, the internet, parties, movies, parties, etc. are, but between Sony’s plans, the BBC’s forthcoming online children’s world, Second Life, There, and other virtual spaces, we’re seeing further illustrations of why librarians need to understand how cultures and interactions work in these spaces for our professional lives.

I believe the same to be true about blogs and networking services like FaceBook as well. These applications are affecting and will continue to affect the world of information in new and significant ways, thereby impacting the work we do as library and information professionals. And given that Internet-based information is borderless (with the exception of certain countries where a national government seeks to censor Internet information, a topic I will discuss in a later post), the different forms of social networking services are taking root all over the world.

Writing from Bangladesh, Mahfuz Sadique produced one of the best introductions to the global blogosphere I’ve ever read. He touches on the most significant themes I have seen discussed in foreign blogs, particularly blogs in the developing world. These themes include Internet access, instruction in using a blog platform to generate content, the size of the blogosphere in a given nation compared to the total population of the country, the socioeconomic backgrounds of blog readers in the country, issues of local language and blogging in local languages and non-latin scripts, and localized content such as citizen journalism (and how this content affects traditional journalistic reporting and potentially invokes censorship on the part of a national government. Sadique paints a picture in which many challenges remain in terms of growing the Bangla blogosphere and using it to produce useful content that can inform Bangladeshis and foreigners alike about life in Bangladesh. But he also notes the blogosphere growth that has occurred in Bangladesh, and such successes as opening up the blogosphere to the Bangla language:

Only around one per cent of people in Bangladesh currently have access to the internet. As a result, before the blogging boom, the national presence on the web… had been sparse… However, since blogging has become a popular pastime, the entire Bangladeshi presence on the landscape of the internet has changed. In the beginning Bangladeshi bloggers had to write in English because of technological barriers. But with the incorporation of Unicode (which is an acronym for a standardization of symbols, Universal Code, which recognizes Bengali characters) into various blog-hosting sites, the number of Bangla blogs has risen exponentially. This was best demonstrated by a blog hosted by a Danish-Bangladeshi site, Somewhere in, when it launched an exclusively Bengali blog platform site — ‘Badh Bhangar Aawaj’. According to Hasin Hayder of Somewhere in, ‘there are around 5000 bloggers continuously writing’. The figures are staggering; since it started, a little over a year back, more than 31,000 articles and 350,000 comments have been posted. The ability to blog in Bangla seems to have liberated Bangladesh from its initial online inhibitions.

Because of thoughts like this in the blogosphere, and the fact that the blogosphere continues to foster active participation and discussion around the world, I believe it is important for us in the library profession to have an understanding of how people use these services, and what types of information they use the services to communicate. Certainly there exist considerable challenges for bloggers and social networkers in many countries, such as those Mahfuz Sadique touched upon. But given that people around the world are using social networking services to connect, network, communicate, and share information on global issues and events, library and information professionals have an interest in examining this trend towards internationalization, and considering where and how they may play a role in this international conversation. Given that social networking services will continue to become a prominent means by which people around the world exchanging information, library and information professionals have an interest in monitoring and understanding this global trend.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 8, 2007 at 1:49 am

What do we mean by social networking?

I am not asking for a comprehensive definition. I have yet to come across any definition that does anything more than offer an understanding of social networking in the broadest possible terms. On August 6 of this year for example, the Wikipedia defined social networking as a service that “focuses on the building and verifying of online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.” I don’t disagree with any of that, but it doesn’t by itself offer me a greater understanding of what a social networking service is. The Wikipedia staff doesn’t find it adequate either, and have flagged the article as being in need of expansion and of additional material to support the ideas in the article.

I ask this question more to define some boundaries on what Amanda and I (your blog moderators) are proposing for discussion. Common understandings of social networking services hold that services like FaceBook and MySpace fall into the rubric of social networking, and I believe this is what the SIG-III officers had in mind when we came up with the idea of having this discussion.

I have since expanded the scope of this discussion to include the blogosphere as well. Like the networking services listed above, the blogosphere meets the criteria of the Wikipedia’s broad definition of social networking. (And yes, so do image sharing services such as Flickr, video sharing services such as YouTube, and virtual worlds such as Second Life. I have chosen to focus on blogs and FaceBook/MySpace-style services for discussion on the SIG-III blog, but I would be remiss if I failed to note other applications and services that have networking aspects as well). With this in mind, we welcome your ideas on our discussions of internationally focused blogs and networking services, but please do not feel limited by this focus. Please comment on any post you like, and if you would like to contribute an entirely new thought or post, please send it to me at sigiiiblog [at] gmail.com.

Beyond that, here are some more comprehensive definitions of social networking – all open to discussion, debate, and critique. In March of this yeah, Danah Boyd offered the following description of a workshop she put together with Nicole Ellison and Scott Golder at the 3rd Annual Communities and Technologies Conference. In their description they loosely considered social software to “include social network sites (e.g., Cyworld, MySpace, orkut, and Facebook), contemporary online dating services (e.g., Friendster, Spring Street Personals, Match.com), blogging services (e.g., LiveJournal, Xanga, Blogger), tagging tools (e.g. del.icio.us, Digg) and media sharing sites (e.g., YouTube, Flickr).” Then in June, Danah offered a definition of social networking specifically:

To count as a social network site, the site MUST have 1) a public or friends-only profile system; 2) a publicly articulated list of “Friends” who are also on the system (not blogrolls). Friends must be visible on an individual’s profile and it must be possible to traverse the network graph through that list of Friends. If the site does not let you “comment” on Friends’ profiles, please indicate that. This is not necessary although it is a common component. I’m not interested in dating sites, community sites, or blogging tools that do not have public profile + friends that are displayed on profiles.

Socialmedia.biz further describes some of the primary characteristics of social networking services:

1. Communication in the form of conversation, not monologue. This implies that social media must facilitate two-way discussion, discourse, and debate with little or no moderation or censorship. …

2. Participants in social media are people, not organizations. Third-person voice is discouraged and the source of ideas and participation is clearly identified and associated with the individuals that contributed them. Anonymity is also discouraged but permissible in some very limited situations.

3. Honesty and transparency are core values. Spin and attempting to control, manipulate, or even spam the conversation are thoroughly discouraged. …

4. It’s all about pull, not push. … In social media, people are in control of their conversations, not the pushers.

5. Distribution instead of centralization. … Social media is highly distributed and made up of tens of millions of voices making it far more textured, rich, and heterogeneous than old media could ever be (or want to be). Encouraging conversations on the vast edges of our networks, rather than in the middle, is what this point is all about.

And concerning the blogosphere specifically, Paul, a blogger at a South African blog called Chilibean, echos the first and second of Socialmedia.biz’s points. He writes that “a blog is a conversation. Blogs are structured to facilitate interaction between the blogger and the blog’s readers and use simple tools like RSS feeds, comments and trackbacks to keep those conversations going. Blogging lends itself to informality because of the emphasis on the expression of an authentic voice as an essential element of a blog.”

So if you have any thoughts on the nature of social networking as I have presented it here, please leave a comment. Otherwise, I’ll be posting more about the international face of social networking later this evening or tomorrow.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 7, 2007 at 12:46 am

Posted in 2007 Global Plaza, SNS