BitDepth 721 - March 09

The US Embassy's Feng Hua Wang explains how the state uses social media to convey its messages globally.
Moving from social to just media

Feng Hua Wang speaking at her seminar on social media at NALIS. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

Pushing the door open gently; I expected to hear the buzz of a social media conference in full flight. Half an hour past the advertised start of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago’s seminar on social media, the facilitator, Feng Hua Wang was killing time with introductions.
Ten minutes later, Wang, an Information Resource Officer visiting the US Embassy, began her talk to an audience composed mostly of journalists covering the event and MATT executives.

Wang was really presenting to three participants at the seminar, but let’s be generous, most of the folks present were attentive to Wang’s talk, which explored how social media services work and how the US manages information using networks like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
“Social media will become a part of life,” Wang said. “We don’t talk about televisions, we just watch.”
Unfortunately, there was precious little to see beyond her slides. A wireless connection failure notice kept popping up on the presenter’s screen and with no connection; the planned working session with live browsing simply wasn’t possible. Forty minutes after she began, Feng Hua Wang’s talk came to an end. The chat after the formal presentation was interesting and Wang proved to be an enthusiastic, engaging conversationalist on her chosen topic.

The conversation about social media is growing more heated and more polarised unfortunately, as these alternate means of information transfer move more clearly from the fringes to the mainstream of Trinidad and Tobago news consumption.
The discussion boils down, in essence to the following exchange...
New media producer: “You are obsolete and nobody is interested in your medium”
Traditional media journalist: “Who are you and why are you bothering me with this nonsense?”

In sharp contrast with the relaxed engagement of Wang’s lecture, I spent two-and-a-half hours on Sunday with the
NoBehaviourShow, a new web-based call in show produced by three members of the Twitter collective dubbed the West Indies Twitter Army, usually truncated to WITArmy.
Last Sunday’s discussion, hosted by @maxnavie, @SanMan_ish and @dre7413, ranged widely on the topic of traditional journalism, new media outlets, peer sharing and all the other buzzwords that stoke impassioned discussion in media today.

The show, an impromptu effort at translating the discussions that ripple back and forth on Twitter into focused discussions, leverages two free services, U-Stream and Skype.
Here’s how it works. At show time, the live stream kicks in at and the hosts log in. Guests are invited to a conference call on Skype and participants raise their virtual hands on Twitter to call in while the show progresses.

The Twitter conversation is often as lively as the show itself and if there’s any failing, it’s the loss of that parallel conversation when the final product is rendered to a podcast file. To be fair, there’s no technology that I’m aware of that can replicate the vibe of a live, streamed conversation of comments when it happens spontaneously in synchronisation with an audio discussion. The experience is like a weird mashup of video popup comments and the educational roaring of ‘pit’ in the grand old days of cinema.

The three host-producers have been surprisingly active, delivering five shows and four podcasts since mid-February and by today, it’s likely that two more shows will have wrapped.
Somewhere between today’s tentative conversations about user generated content on the web and the steady improvement of that content to professional standards, we’ll stop talking and just watch, read and listen.
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