World Wild Web

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

The naysayers are right: the blogosphere is full of horse manure. Never mind the Twittersphere.

There’s a Jakarta-based blog I occasionally dip into, as it’s media-centered – whoops! Make that media-centred, as BT from this edition has swapped from US English to the Brit variety – but in a recent post, the blogger uploaded a photograph of a toilet at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport that he was displeased with owing to the position of the toilet-paper holder. He wanted toilet builders to be more mindful of their designs.

As it’s highly unlikely any construction firm will ever see the post, it amounts to fixated bluster more than anything. And in such truly bad taste.

It’s precisely because netizens think they can mention every minute facet of their lives, and that they think people will be interested, that we have seen the explosion of a heaving mountain of twaddle on the internet.

People, I think, feel empowered, too. They believe that by posting something, whatever, even that loo garbage, they give themselves an edge, some kind of air of influence, as though they were relating the story to someone of importance.

It’s citizen journalism gone berserk. But that’s the uncensored, free-for-all internet for you, which of course is the underlying reason for its popularity. It’s necessary, then, to wade through the societal debris to get to the good stuff.

For there are decent and relevant and informative blogs out there; but they’re an internet endangered species.

I can’t help but feel that some bloggers are entirely narcissistic, like the fellow above. He’ll say he’s on holiday but then breathlessly blog from a hotel foyer, about nothing of substance – who cares! He’ll be about to board a plane yet send a dispatch on something the check-in girl said. What tosh! Perhaps he’d feel more at home roosting on Twitter (but that’s severely character-limiting, and you can only type 140 characters at a time).

There was a “blogging party” in Bali late last year, when at a competition, bloggers gathered around a table and “blogged” – about what? That’s the equivalent of putting people at a table and asking them to speak nonstop on anything that came to their mind. The result: gibberish. Yet people take it seriously, or at least pretend to, in the face of a comprehension void. Lemming-like: Everyone’s doing it, so it must be great!

There has to be a sense to Web 2.0 but thus far it seems, here and abroad, it’s full-on headless-chicken behaviour. Facebook, though useful, has over 200 million users yet in its fifth year of operation has yet to make a penny. The tweet factory – away with the birds – has far fewer punters and has no business plan whatsoever to make any cash. Yet investors rush in as if there’s a gold mine about to be discovered.

This is what precisely led to the first internet bubble bursting. Lessons have been learned, though, and there’s many a serious internet firm that’s making billions (Google, Amazon, eBay et al), but here’s an example of what’s wrong with this online picture: Twitter has received around US$57 million in venture capital funding, yet has no revenue and no plans on how to get any. One of its principals was quoted as saying they didn’t really need all that cash, and it would be kept in the bank. This would appear to go against every economic grain there is. So Twitter’s a plaything charity?

One Twitter user has developed his stream into a supposed newswire; it’s called BNO News – or Breaking NewsOn. The founder, in Holland, told me via email he was preparing to roll out professional news services to media in the United States and last week it said it had notched up a quarter of a million followers. But the breathless reporting style and clear rip-off of real newswires, like Reuters, AFP and AP, forced me to flip the switch and it became Breaking NewsOff.

The Twitterverse, however, has been propelled into a mega-frenzy in the past couple of weeks, driven largely by a highly publicised duel between US actor Aston Kutcher and news channel CNN, to see who would be the first on the site to have 1 million followers.

The actor won, and a heap of mosquito nets have been donated to help battle malaria (though some reports said the actor rigged the race because if you start to follow him, you can’t unfollow, as you should be able to do, through some allegedly nefarious mechanism. I didn’t risk trying to find out). Then Oprah started Twittering, and legions of fans signed up to the service to see what the talkshow queen of feelings was up to off-camera. Larry King subsequently tried his hand at it (Wednesday: “we did more on swine flu tonight. I’ve always keep Tamiflu in case I get the flu, but my pharmacist tells me it’s now backordered!” and on and on it went.

Kutcher’s spouse, the actress Demi Moore, has long been a Twitter aficionado – possibly prompting New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to opine in a recent piece on Twitter, in her continuing quest to understand how the internet is usurping the newspaper industry, that Twitter is for “bored celebrities,” among other segments of society that she said included teens – and while initially it may seem like a thrill to get tweets from a Hollywood star, however fading, quickly it dissolves into the banal.

Like this Moore tweet over the weekend: “11:11 is my number! … I like times like that. Fell asleep at 930pm for about 15 minutes. Mistake.”

A new site I came across this week, courtesy of a Twitterer in the US who is following me, is adequately called Muck Rack and is an aggregator of what journalists are twittering about. It bills it as: “What if you could get tomorrow’s newspaper today?”

I’m not convinced it’s all news all the time, however, as one reporter tweeted: “Buying a giant bag of organic lemons has been the best ‘but it was on sale!’ purchase I have ever made.” (Jacqui Cheng, Associate Editor, Ars Technica)

Twitter is little more than the fad of the moment. Market research firm Nielsen said in a report this week that more than half of Twitter users stopped using the service a month after signing up, and that user loyalty was fairly dismal.

What is becoming bountifully clear, though, is that a new, more personal and individual-user-oriented media landscape is being laid out, and the evidence is starting to emerge. This week the US Army announced the creation of an Online Social Media Division, to keep itself relevant to society and get its message out.

“Young people today don’t watch the evening news. Their friends are sharing information through Twitter, or Facebook,” spokeswoman Lindy Kyzer said.

Of that there is no doubt.

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One Response to “World Wild Web”

  1. Patung Says:

    Wow, couldn’t agree more with this, Indonesians in particular are massively over-represented proportionately in numbers of users of twitter, plurk and facebook.

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