Thursday, April 27, 2006

Answering the Critics

In the PR industry (practitioners and academics) there is a doubt about the importance of New Media. It is like a layer of communication and relationships that lies over the PR domian.

There is an argument that blogging is most of all for people who want to express themselves. Just don't belive it. The empirical evidence in The Learning Organization Volume 12 Number 5 2005 pp. 418-435 is provided by Tim Finin, Li Ding, Lina Zhou and Anupam Joshi they show it is a social network.

“Friend of a Friend” (FOAF) datasets were analysed to discover how FOAF is being used and investigate the kinds of social networks found on the web. They found that the FOAF ontology is the most widely used domain ontology on the semantic web.

I then hear people ask if blog and wiki and IM and chat conversations are 'real'.

The extent to which 'conversation / dialogue as we understand that in real life situations' are akin to Blogs is a red herring.

There are differences which are of the sort that were identified between face to face conversations and telephone conversations in research done in the USA (I think during the 1930's – but my memory fades).

But there is lots of evidence that such 'conversations are real and are real life'. Standage notes that ‘despite the apparently impersonal nature of communicating by wire, (the telegraph) was in fact an extremely subtle and intimate means of communication’ (Standage, T. 1998 The Victorian Internet. London: Phoenix Books. p. 123).

Certainly modern Neuro-scientists can identify the extent to which physical presence has effects and they are significant (Quarts and Senowski 2002 Liars, Lovers and Heroes pp 183 HarperCollins) but so too are other communication stimuli.

Such conversations are different and have different characteristics. This is not an unusual state of affairs. An example is provided about other modern forms of communication such as SMS by the BBC. In addition as more and more organisations use Instant Messaging (and here is a good one for group conversations), the critics had better hang on to their hats as IM goes mobile. The reason IM is so significant is that big companies are integrating phone, and messaging to save costs. Its the next big thing in corporate communication technology and a communication channel that we need to understand.

These are real conversations.

There is also the issue of difference in useage which is covered in the UNESCO paper Measuring Linguistic Diversity on the Internet, A collection of papers by: John Paolillo,Daniel Pimienta,
Daniel Prado,et al. (

Then, I understand, we seek to find out under what conditions weblogs create social action, more than just comments of individuals. I can report that there is research (so far unpublished) and evidence as to the extent that coverage in newspapers provokes effects in blogs (one kind of inter media behavioural cause and effect). There is evidence that Blogs do affect consumer behaviour. In addition, the influence seems to be significant.

There is also a lot of empirical evidence from the old fashioned telegraph, peer to peer radio, Morse Code, Usenet, SMS and so as which shows such effects. As Sherman notes (2001), it is a little too early to say whether the Internet is amplifying or transformative, but ‘As history has illustrated, it is wise to remain open to all possibilities’ (p. 68. See also Joinson, A.N. (2003). Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour: Virtual Worlds, Real Lives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Were this the level of consideration relevant to PR practice it would be significant but other things are happening. The next big thing on the web is computers learning to "reason", as the long march to artificial intelligence begins in earnest. Tim Berners-Lee, the man behind the world wide web, says the "semantic web" is learning to do it and is reshaping society.

Then there is the extent to which people are active online. The ratio between active participants and lurkers. Less than 5% of people use the interactivity available according to Mon Tsang CEO and Founder of Boxxet and Chairman and Founder of Biz360.

I have some experience of this. The news service has a very powerful editing and archive capability which no one uses. They are just recipients of news.

These are just a few reasons why the PR industry needs to be active in New Media.

There is more to come.

Picture: Sky on Sky