Windows Mobile – Just not Cool

With the holiday season upon us, my son is back from college.  Yesterday he had a dozen of his friends over to “hang out”.  Since this was costing me around 100 pizza bagels and a couple boxes of mozzarella sticks, I thought it was only fair for me to have an impromptu mobile focus group of college students.

Most of them were on the Verizon Network, with one on AT&T and one on T-Mobile.  There were 7 Smartphone class devices (1 iPhone, 3 Blackberrys, 3 Android), 3 Multimedia class devices and 2 feature phones.  Those who had the more impressive devices were much quicker to wave them in the air and show them off, while the feature phone owners were trying to avoid eye contact.

Their preferred manner of communicating with each other was text first, then voice, then Facebook, then IM, and lastly email.

I then described the features of a Windows 7 phone, without naming it.  The live tiles, music integration,  gaming system integration, etc.  I got a reasonable concurrence that those features were “cool” and was asked if they were available on their “app stores”.

More on that a little later on.

I then asked them if they heard of the Windows 7 phone and what they thought of it?  I got lots of frowns and looks of disgust,  “A Microsoft Phone?, not cool” , “That’s for computers, not phones”, “Will it work all the time?”.  You get the general reaction.  The group thought the basic features of the Microsoft phone were desirable, but had a very negative reaction to the name and software system.

I asked them if they would trade in their phone for a free Windows 7 model?  Only the feature phone owners indicated that a free Windows phone would be better than the 2006-era voice and text via t9 models they were forced to endure.

This result is similar to other impromptu focus groups I have managed with my kids’ friends.  Their phone is a social accessory. It is the most important electronic gear they own since they have it with them 24/7.  Blackberry’s have strangely entered the “cool zone” and are as socially acceptable to the teen crowd as iPhones and Droids.  Windows phones are clearly not cool, even though their features are desirable.

What does this mean for Microsoft?  They made a big mistake, another in a long list of mobile missteps, by naming their mobile phone after a PC operating system.  Did I mention that 75% of my sample group used Apple computers as their main machine?  Microsoft has been very successful with XboX, partly because it was NOT called Windows Vista Game System.  Microsoft called their mp3 music player “Zune”, not Windows music player.  Zune has been a market failure, not because of its name, but rather it was outclassed and out marketing by Apple iTunes and iPod.

Microsoft released sales figures for their mobile device on 12/21.  They touted 1.5M devices sold in the first 6 weeks.  This number, however, reflects the number of devices that are in the Carriers stores and pipeline, not how many have been sold to actual subscribers.  Verizon has over 2000 direct retail outlets and easily a similar number of resellers.  You can appreciate how many phones you have distribute to fill the distribution pipeline.

In comparison Android is activating 300K phones a day and Apple sold (really sold) 3M iPhones in its first 3 weeks on the market, over three years ago.

What should the team in Redmond do now?  I believe the clue is in one of the comments from my son’s friends.  “Where can I get these in the App store?”  If XboX gaming on a mobile is valuable, then Microsoft should develop their own apps for Blackberry, iPhone and Android and make money from their “competitors” mobile platforms.

Likewise, they could provide a Zune application for music on these platforms (well maybe not iPhone).  My point is that if Microsoft has valuable applications then sell them as applications.  If my small sampling is at all indicative of how Microsoft’s core targeted market is reacting to their mobile device, they have to seriously re-think what they have done.  Find a cool name for the phone, don’t rely on a Zune/Xbox positioning, and tout the basic phone interface as better than other Smartphone’s.  To some degree they have tried the latter with the ad campaign promoting the ease of use of their device.

The real question will be is the market willing to accept another smartphone platform at this point? What do you think?

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Filed under advertising, android, Apple, AT&T, Droid Incredible, facebook, Google, iphone, Ipod, iTunes, mobile, Verizon, Windows, Windows Mobile, wireless, XboX, Zune

Is Net Neutrality – Neutral?

Google and Verizon have raised the public discourse on the thorny issue of “Net Neutrality”.  In case you have missed this firestorm…..

Net Neutrality is the principle that the Internet is an open data pipe available on the same terms to all content and service providers.   This is a nice in theory, but in practice the lines are already blurry.    Content providers can pay for faster content acceleration and local storage of their media assets throughout the Internet.  These content delivery networks are what powers most video sites such as YouTube.  Bigger media companies can afford better, faster servers, geographically distributed content and larger Internet pipes to funnel their services to their customers.  Like many commercial issues, everything is equal, unless you have more money to pay for an advantage.  The neutral part of “Net Neutrality” is that the local Internet Service Provider does not inspect the content sources once they enter their network.  If they happen to arrive at a local point of presence through a faster mechanism than the average website, then sobeit. The Verizon Google proposal was compelled by a recent court ruling against the FCC’s ability to enforce net neutrality.

The main points of the Verizon/Google proposal are:

-Internet Providers should not be allowed to discriminate against or prioritization legal content in a way that harms customers or competition.  This includes paid prioritization.

-Internet Providers can develop new premium services and features that are not included in basic broadband.  (This is similar to basic cable TV and premium services)

-The FCC should enforce the nondiscrimination rules with heavy fines

-These proposals do not apply to wireless

-Endorsement of the reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund to allow government to deploy broadband Internet in rural areas.

There are three issues that are at the heart of this latest debate on Net-Neutrality.

The recent court ruling on Comcast’s desire to limit peer-to-peer networks, the co-ownership of delivery networks by major content providers, and the explosion of smartphone services.

Taking these one at a time

1-Federal Court Ruling

The event that triggered this latest round of corporate posturing was the Federal Court ruling on behalf of Comcast and against the FCC.  This ruling was a blow to net-neutrality as it would permit Comcast to prioritize different content services.  The case was brought up by Comcast trying to limit the use of peer-to-peer services such as Bit Torrent and Limewire.  These p-p services consume huge amounts of network resources and are the prime culprit in the distribution of “free” unauthorized content from  music to movies to porn.  A potential outcome from such a ruling might be for the FCC and C to legislate tighter regulation of broadband services.   Since this ruling has upset the status-quo, and since the industry does not want additional governmental regulation, Verizon and Google seized the moment to make a joint proposal.   The element that has drawn significant fire from critics is the provision to permit a premium service tier for broadband internet.

2- Co-Ownership of content and delivery

There is a significant intersection of broadband delivery networks and content ownership.  Comcast will soon own NBC/Universal.  Time Warner is a content giant with such proprieties as CNN and Turner.  Cablevision owns Madison Square Garden, its sports franchises and television network.  While AT&T and Verizon do not have significant content holdings, they are highly vested in Wireless Broadband services.

In theory, and in practice, if you own content assets and have a delivery network you can discriminate your content above your competitors and even not offer your content to competing delivery networks.

One example of this discrimination is Cablevision’s refusal to permit MSG high definition sports on Verizon Fios.  Cablevision owns MSG and the associated NHL and NBA franchises.  (Their mismanagement of the Knicks and the Rangers could fill 20 blog articles, so I will resist!) Since Cablevision competes with Verizon in cable access, they wield their content power to the disadvantage of Verizon.  Comcast, which does not directly compete with Cablevision, but also compete with Verzion, is granted access to the high definition sports feeds.  I case they figure the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

This example is not so much an example of bad net neutrality as content neutrality, and how the two are really the same issue.  The more content and net access ownership is intertwined, the more likely we will see the abuses of Cablevision.

Suppose Fox purchased Cablevision (not likely).  Fox could then, in theory, give better access to content providers that share their same political leanings.

As long as Internet providers do not own content, then the Google Verizon proposal should be viewed with a sense of today’s reality.  The problem is that there is already an intermingling of content and access providers in the Internet.  This co-ownership goes back to the early days of AOL, and continues today with many of the broadband providers.

In this view it is not surprising that Google , an almost 100% content player, and Verizon , an almost 100% network player, would join forces in their proposal.  But then there is something else that binds them….Android

3-Wireless Broadband

The other factor that binds Verizon and Google is their cooperation on Android powered phones.  The success of Motorola and HTC’s Android smartphones has created a real competitor to Apple’s iPhone.  This phenomenon has also changed the nature of wireless networks.  Wireless networks have historically been architected and optimized to deliver voice services.  The data capabilities of mobile devices must transit a hierarchy of switches and locations necessitated by legacy voice design, not data.  The new reality for wireless carriers such as Verizon and AT&T is that they are now mobile broadband service providers, which happen to carry voice.  This is a major paradigm shift that has the wireless providers scrambling to keep up with data demand.    By excluding wireless broadband from the net neutrality restrictions of their proposal, Verizon and their partner Google are indicating that the cost of maintaining a completely neutral wireless network with an acceptable level of service to all is becoming cost prohibitive.   Verizon and AT&T are victims of their own success.    With the ability to limit certain content providers and types, the wireless carriers hope to regain investment control on their networks.

There are other ways around the wireless broadband problem, and that will be the topic of a future article.

With the three driving factors of Court Ruling reaction, Co-Ownership and Wireless Broadband, the recent Net-Neutrality proposal seems logical and better positioned for the broadband marketplace than the potential chaos the Comcast ruling has created.   With the court ruling as the new law of the land, Net Neutrality is dead.  The opponents of the Verizon Google proposal seem to miss that important point.

What are your thoughts?

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Calling Microsoft’s Next of Kin

In  Microsoft’s struggle to remain relevant in the exploding mobile device market, they withdrew their latest attempt at a teen social networking device from the market.  The Kin’s market life was about 50 days.  It was a decent device , just  two years late to the game.

You can light a candle in memory of the Kin at kinrip.com. Its a very touching memorial website.  May its memory be a blessing.

According to Engadget part of Kin’s delay was caused by Microsoft scrapping the IP, or part of it, that it paid $500M for in their acquisition of Danger and instead re-developing the device on the soon to also be defunct Windows CE system.   Engadget also reports on corporate power plays, executive infighting and internal office politics.   Not what you would expect.

If this is not a Harvard Business Case Analysis in the making for a new crop of Cambridge bound MBA’s , I don’t know what would be.  You can read the full Engadget analysis through this link. The key element that is dominating the new super-phone marketplace is the ever-increasing velocity of innovation.

Microsoft announced their new Smartphone OS –Windows Mobile  7 – in January 2010.  The first devices with this Microsoft OS are expected to hit the market near the December holiday season.  In that same period of time Apple released their new iPhone and a new iPhone OS, the iPad, an Ad network, and who knows what else we will see in the next 6 months!   The Android ecosystem will have almost two-dozen variants, with each new device more spectacular than the last.  HP acquired Palm and is integrating their technology into their netbooks, and perhaps producing another new line of smartphones.  RIM’s Blackberry will have several releases and a new OS,  and of course Nokia’s product line has a makeover with a new operating system.  The speed of innovation is accelerating at a dizzying pace.  This is great for consumers, great for innovation and great for moving services to the market quicker.

And Microsoft?

They introduced, and then killed one phone and announced that they will have a new system by the end of 2010.

One thing is certain; the world is not waiting around for Microsoft to deliver their Windows Mobile 7 devices.

But maybe we should be, and here’s why.

Microsoft has  too much corporate talent, financial resources and computing market reach to just pull up their tents and go home in the most important computing segment.   Microsoft survived the debacle of Vista because they are Microsoft,  and have had virtual monopoly power in desktop computing.  In mobile, Microsoft is not the leader in market share, thought leadership or industry hype.  They have to slug it out with a crowded field of very nimble and powerful competitors.  This means they have to innovate and be quick about it to survive.   Having almost a one-year duration from product announcement to introduction is just not getting it done.

The irony is that the marketplace could really benefit from a strong Microsoft presence.

Apple is getting very economically aggressive with their high perch in smartphones.   Google’ Android Platform will likely eclipse Apple in aggregate sales in the next year. Do we all want to place our computing futures completely with Google?  Make no mistake about it , I am a big fan of Apple and Google.  It’s just that absolute power in markets has its downsides.  From a U.S. perspective, the only companies with the overall corporate strength to play on the same field with Apple and Google are RIM and Microsoft.  Nokia could be a legit player, globally,  but their position in the U.S. is just not strong enough.

In the irony of ironies, Microsoft is the leading candidate to challenge the emerging monopolistic leaders in the smartphone business.  They can keep the competitive environment going well into the future and prevent it from stagnating into a duopoly.    The issue is that Microsoft seems incapable of getting out of their own way, with failure following failure in this space.  The Kin is just the latest mobile problem for Microsoft.   Even the name “Windows Mobile 7” is a window (sorry for the pun) to the desktop corporate computing bias.   Android, Blackberry and iPhone all sound cool.  Windows Mobile 7 conjures up images of blue screens.

I know that’s not fair but,  it is what it is.

Windows Mobile 7  seems like a name picked for internal synergistic and political reasons and not one geared for mobile market success. If there was ever a company that seemed to have all the assets in place to dominate the mobile smart phone business, it was Microsoft.  Now they are trying to be in the mix and be relevant.

If Windows Mobile 7 is not a success, then the last card for Microsoft to play will be the another acquisition , perhaps RIM?

For the sake of keeping Apple and Google honest in this space, I am hoping for a success from Microsoft.

Do you believe that Microsoft’s Mobile team can deliver?

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Filed under Acquisitions, android, Apple, Droid, iPad, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores

My Spy Next Door

The recent spy ring round up in my area of suburban New Jersey brings back a memory of another east bloc spy that I knew…. really.

Before I get into that story, since this is the Mobileman blog, I need to tie this story to something wireless.

The recent Jersey/Russian spies exchanged messages in a Starbucks using a private WiFi Network and hid messages (eventually not well) in jpg images on websites and social media.

Okay enough of that. Now my spy story.

When I was in high school the cold war was the real deal.  My kids laugh at me when I recall the “Duck and Cover” civil defense drills we did in elementary school.

“When you see the flash of the nuclear explosion, duck your head and cover up!”  I can still hear that catchy little song in my mind “Duck… and Cover” , sung by a turtle with a helmet on his head. The video below was already over 20 years old when it was being used in my elementary school.

In high school I was part of the “Computer Club”. (The statute of limitations on Geekdom has expired!)   We were a group of 6 guys and one girl that competed in programming contests with other schools.  Our computer room was a converted boys bathroom that had 3 Teletype computer terminals complete with paper tape storage and long rolls of continuous yellow paper.

A former boys bathroom in a high school is hardly the setting for the next Tom Clancy novel….. or is it?

One of the computer geeks in our club was Peter Hermann.  Peter was a year older and by all accounts` extremely brilliant.  He was just another normal Westchester suburban kid,  with the one additional  detail.  Peter and his family were East German spies.

This became the setting for a real life novel written by another classmate of mine – Lawrence Kessner.  In 1981 he wrote “The Spy Next Door”.  This has nothing to do with the recent movie or another spy novel of the same name. Of the three it is my favorite spy story.

It seems Peter was being groomed to be a master spy.  He was destined to go to an Ivy League school or a D.C school such as Georgetown.  At college he would make the lifetime connections that any good spy needs.  His major would be in  government and his future job was planned to get him access to good spy stuff to send back to his handler.  His parents, while also spies, were “mulls” –  Spies who would move messages from one place to another.  Peter was the sleeper crown jewel.

I remember Peter showing us some of his spy gadgets.  This was a safe thing for him to do because who ever suspects a 15 year old classmate to be a real spy?  I remember a small  “spy” camera and a nickel that opened up and had a small space that something (microfilm) could be placed.  I even remember saying something like , “Gee , that would be cool stuff to play spy with…”  I am sure he got laugh on my account for that one.

The Kessner book goes into more details on Mark’s other relationships and activities.  It seems the KGB even used a “honey-pot” trap to keep him in the fold.  Could you imaging a 14-year-old boy going to Moscow for training and being seduced by a gorgeous KGB woman?   They could have easily won the cold war through mass recruitment if they made that perk well known.

Fact stranger than fiction.

In the end the East German spy family was caught and turned into double agents by the FBI.  When the East Germans and the KGB suspected that this had happened they asked them to return to East Germany.  At this point the family entered the witness re-location program.

Moving trucks came by their house in the middle of the night and removed all their belongings.  The house was on the market the next week.  We assumed that the moving trucks came from our government and not from the KGB. No one has heard from them since, although I am sure they have been living normal lives in the open. I also wondered if the new family that moved in was also a spy family being re-located from somewhere else?  A Spy exchange program?

Spies in the suburbs.  Not a new story.

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Filed under From Russia with Love, Honey Pot, KGB, mobile, New Jersey, The Spy Next Door, True LIfe

Saying Goodbye to my iPad – Is there an App for that?

Since my iPad loaner period is about complete, its time to record what I like and don’t like about the sexiest device to hit the market since…..  well probably ever.

If your main activity is light web browsing and email, the iPad is in your sweet spot.  The apps that are made specifically for the iPad are  really few in number, so Safari and Mail will likely dominate your use.   As the regular readers now, I am a fan of Google docs, which couples with the iPad nicely.  Google docs gives me great compatibility with word, excel and powerpoint.

One of the companies I consult with makes extensive use of the “Dropbox” application, which works great on the iPad.  Dropbox is a virtual “cloud” drive that easily mounts on a Mac , PC, Android Phone and iPad.  It is clearly the most promiscuous and functional file sharing application I have come across.

I would be remiss if I also did not rave about the incredible battery life of the iPad.  When I use it as an occasional browsing and email device, I only have to charge it about once a week.

There are, however, a few things that the iPad is not. It is not a device that is meant to be shared amongst friends, family or colleagues.  If you use the email app and let someone else borrow your iPad, they have all of your email.   If you install an app and then let someone use the iPad and they also install apps, you will need each others iTunes credentials to enter into the iPad when those apps have updates.  The iPad I have been using has been passed between three users.  I can only update the apps that I installed.  So scratch multiuser friendliness for now.

Most sadly the iPad is not a great video entertainment device.   It could be the ultimate travel entertainment device,  but it fails.  I say this because of the annoying lack of Adobe Flash support.

If you want to watch a show from a network site…. fail

If you want to use your HBOGO subscription….. fail

If you want  to play your favorite game on Facebook….fail.

Anything with Flash…..epic fail.

The war of words on this issue  between Steve Jobs and Adobe are well chronicled in the Press and the  Blogosphere.

Speaking as a user and developer on the iPad, I view this as a major Faux Pas.  I know you can download video from the Net, convert it to an iPad supported format and load it via iTunes, but that’s really beyond most users capabilities and completely misses the point of a Net connected device.

If there were a competitive Android Tablet device on the market that compared head to head with the iPad, I would get the Android version just for the Flash Support.   When I now want to watch a web videoon the go , I use my Droid smartphone because of the Flash Support.

This would be like developing a PC that only supports one browser.  Even Microsoft in its most Machiavellian days permitted other browsers to be installed within its operating system.   I wish I could say this was anything other than Apple trying to drive all video for the iPad to be within apps and iTunes. The Apple Flash policy is pure, raw monopolistic power being wielded, clear and simple.  To call it anything else is just poor technical rationalization.  Apple used to be the underdog, the company of the people.  Oh well.

(Click Here for Jon Stewart’s take on Apple’s Corporate Aggressiveness – funny)
This is a real shame because the iPad could be a super personal video device.  And yes, I know that there are videos available on iTunes and special built video apps, but the world is bigger than iTunes, and a Net connected browsing device should be compatible, with the Net! (End of Rant)

Prophetic commercial?

The next question is will I miss not having an iPad in my electronic arsenal?  In this case I am probably very unique among iPad users.  How many give up there iPad after a month?

My iPad has been useful in business travel and meetings .  Somehow I managed to survive travel and meetings without this wonder device in the past and I bet I will be just fine without it.   I just won’t look as cool!

If I suffer severe withdrawal symptoms I will let you know!

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Filed under Adobe, Apple, Content, Droid, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, FLASH, HTC, HTC Incredible, HTML%, iPad, iTunes, microsoft, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, netbooks, sex, smart phone, Smartphone, wireless

Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

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Filed under advertising, android, Apple, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, Google, iphone, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, new media, New York, Rangers, sex, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, social networking, Twitter, wireless

Twitter as Mainstream Media for Israeli/Gaza Conflict?

It was 18 months ago that I first wrote about the extension of real, shooting wars to the social media battleground.  This past week saw a return of cyberspace prominence in the Israeli/Gaza blockade.   The first story that flooded Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was the violence that occurred on the Mavi Marmara.  As this story exploded across the traditional press outlets, videos were available on YouTube showing the actual helicopter boarding of the ship and the attack on the soldiers, which was followed by deadly violence. In this case social media added some perspective to a very volatile issue.

What I found particularly interesting was the coverage of the next ship that attempted to land in the Gaza, the “Rachel Corrie”.  The name of the ship is a reference to an American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003.   This ship was due to meet up with the Israeli navy early Saturday morning.  I was quite interested in what would happen and tried to get information from traditional media websites throughout the evening in New York.  Much of the information I found was old.  Old in this case means at least 12 hours.   Around midnight NYC time ,  Twitter seemed to become the major news source.  This was fascinating.  Tweets were coming in fast and furious.  This is the first time I experienced the “fog of war” in real time social media.  Reports came in about the ship being boarded, stopped, not stopped, trailed by naval ships, proceeding to Gaza, going to Ashdod, being inspected by International representatives, and so on. Rumors followed Rumors.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the ship had been boarded three hours before the actual event.  This report seemed to be in response to an earlier Tweet that seemed credible.  A credible Tweet as a source?  The Jpost eventually retracted their story, but not before their report was Tweeted 1000’s of time as credible.    The problem is what is a credible Tweet?  Twitter is an environment where anyone can broadcast anything.   The need for instantaneous news on any world event has put news organizations in the position of trying to sift through 1000’s of Tweets to determine what may or may not be happening.  Most Tweets about the Rachel Corrie were re-Tweets of other rumors that were then reinforced by their sheer volume of messaging.  As the trending stats of the Rachel Corrie become higher and higher, it attracted the spammers and the truly crazy people.  Yet through all of this,  I was updating the Twitter role of info on the Rachel Corrie.  The information pipe became even more stuffed with offers for good, services, merchandise and other threads about the ship that described  what was or was not happening.

For the record, the ship was eventually boarded and led to the port of Ashdod where the crew and passengers were deported from Israel and the goods inspected, before shipment to Gaza.  The ruling Hamas Party in Gaza has subsequently refused to accept the aid from the Rachel Corrie becuase it was trucked through Israel. This ship made less worldwide headlines because there was no attack on the naval boarding party and the ship sailed peacefully to an Israeli port.  However, this crisis is far from over as Iran now proposes to use its Navy to escort blockade running ships.

Will we continue to rely on Twitter as the front line of information gathering if this situation escalates even further?  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintains a Twitter account to answer journalists questions and give them real time information on fast moving stories.  During the Rachel Corrie event they responded to a false story in the Jpost as follows:

Twitter is a mix of first hand accounts, rumors, government accounts, and just plain  propaganda.

In the case of the Rachel Corrie what would have happened if Twitter had been flooded with purposeful and coordinated false information?  Suppose Tweets circulated that the Israeli navy blew up the ship?  These false Tweets get re-tweeted thousands of times.  Mainstream media picks up the story and then reports the false reports.  Riots occur, real people get killed; Politicians take public stances that are difficult to back down from.  Fantasy become reality.  By the time the truth is known, it is too late and a real war has begun.   Sound fantastic?   This has happened, almost….

It was October of 1939 when Martians invaded the State of New Jersey.  Panic ensued.  Orson Wells and his epic War of the Worlds was of course just radio fantasy.  We could only imagine what might have happened if he had a Twitter account at the time.

Here is Russian Television’s Report on the Rachel Corrie Ship

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Filed under Aljerzera, facebook, Gaza, IDF, Iran, Israel, mobile, New York, politics, Rachel Corrie, Social Media, social networking, Twitter, You Tube