The Changing Face of War


If the ongoing conflict in Gaza is anything to go by, it’s clear that the definition of war has changed.

The battle grounds have shifted — and moved online. This time with new frontiers and shinier weapons.

Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used to express political views and rally support, while Second Life is the new gathering ground to protest attacks.

Israeli human rights group Gisha chose animation to raise consciousness about the difficulties facing Gazans who remain confined to the territory.

Last year, the Israeli military started its own YouTube channel to distribute footage of precision air strikes, while the Israeli consulate in New York hosted a press conference on Twitter to respond to questions from the public about Gaza.

But tweeting, according to a blog post on Wired, is passé.

“The latest social media advance combines tools like Twitter, text messaging, and online mapping to gather up first-hand reports, straight from Gaza. The effort, from Al Jazeera Labs, just got started; the reporting is still spotty, and the technology is very much in the testing phase. But the idea is for residents of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank to send quick updates about the conflict from their computers or mobile phones, through SMS or Twitter. The results are then verified, and posted to a Microsoft Virtual Earth map.”

Technology and the Internet have completely changed the face of this rapidly evolving “war of words.”

David Saranga, the head of media relations for the Israeli consulate, in New York says:

“Since the definition of war has changed, the definition of public diplomacy has to change as well.”

Public diplomacy or propaganda? You decide.

Battling The Daily Commute — Mumbai Style

I came across a post about Metro Etiquette, written by my classmate Shayla. While she loves the district’s public transportation, she does have a few issues — issues that, perhaps, DC commuters are all too familiar with.

Take the people who insist on “sharing” their music with the rest of the coach, for instance. Or those who catch up on their sleep, rather noisily, during the morning commute and, as Shayla puts it, the “dry and uninterested tone” of the metro operators.

“The metro is a very public space and filling it with these annoying things really make the ride less enjoyable.”

Maybe that metro rider manual isn’t such a bad idea, Shayla.

But in all honesty, traveling in DC is a breeze compared to traveling in my city, Mumbai. I love my city but its public transportation has some catching up to do. While Mumbai would probably collapse without its trains – the dependable suburban train system ferries some seven million people each day – traveling in the city is a completely different story.

No one can call themselves a true Mumbaiite without having traveled the buses and trains of the city. It’s a privilege – earned only after you have weathered the city’s public transport system.

You know you’re a seasoned commuter in Mumbai when:

ob-aj418_mumbai_20070417131124You travel three stops in the direction opposite to your destination so that you actually find the space to board your train — a routine struggle, with many forced to precariously hang out the doors.

You’re armed and ready – bags slung across shoulders – while boarding the bus that will leave, with or without you, after halting for precisely two seconds at the designated bus stop.

You have the exact fare in your hand before you board the bus. Reach for it once you’re inside the bus amidst the sweaty, irate passengers all fighting for the same square inch of space – while warding off wandering hands – and you’ll know why it is bad idea.

You head for the exit – two stops before your destination — skillfully navigating the swarming crowds. You’re lucky if you make it to the exit in time. You’re even luckier if you can actually get off.

You know the lame beggar sweeping the floors of the coach may “miraculously” make a dash for the exit just as the train pulls out of the station – your handbag in tow.

You know it is routine for women to shop for vegetables, peel them then dice them – all while inside the local train.

You are not surprised when you’re stuck in an overcrowded bus for over five hours because the city is flooded – again.

You don’t flinch when you find your bus fitted with wire meshes to protect its glass windows — and the people inside. Another day of expected political unrest. Nothing the city hasn’t seen before.

You take the train to work less than eight hours after bombs across the city blow up local trains in vicious terrorist attacks. Just how many times can you stay home in fear?

You do it.

Because you’ve done it before.

Because you’ll do it again.

Surfing Singapore

As a sailor’s daughter, I had often heard colorful stories about Singapore — it has one of the world’s busiest ports. It is also a major international financial hub of the Far East. A lucrative business and tourist destination, the country — slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington, DC — has beckoned to me on more than one occasion.

I decided to track the pulse of the country — from 9,664 miles away — and there was no better place to find it than explore its blogosphere. I used  Global Voices Online, an international blog aggregation community, as my map to this foreign world.

Reading the blogs featured on Global Voices Online, it quickly became evident that the overarching topic was the downward spiraling economy and rising unemployment numbers. Bloggers offered opinions on everything from the social impact of the financial crisis to survival tips to cope with the global downturn.

One blogger writes:

“The recession contradicts Singapore’s reputation as a “safe haven” for global investors. In recent weeks, Singapore’s economic fundamentals have been exposed to be less than solid: inflation has worsened and income gap is rising. Job losses will affect Singapore’s migrant workers.”

Another blogger talks about unemployed foreign investment bankers flocking to Singapore — and driving their salaries down.

It was evident. The economy had not spared Singapore either. In fact, it was one of the first Asian countries to be hit. Exploring the international blogosphere does serve as an effective eye opener.

Take a look at some of the most talked-about topics on Singapore’s blogosphere. The size of the words indicate the frequency with which they are mentioned.

picture-111While most of the featured blogs discussed the recession, the Singapore blogosphere also revealed some very interesting — and varied — posts. One post discusses concerns about media owners using the Copyright Act to selectively strangle and silence the Singapore blogosphere. Another blogger shares her views on how the Merlion, Singapore’s national icon, has been desecrated over the years. One particularly irked blogger writes about why Singapore cannot succeed in the Arts just yet.

Surfing the country’s internet waves was not only fascinating but extremely informative as well. I learned that Singapore was ranked the 10th most expensive city in the world and it was also credited with being the most the most wired country in the world.

There is a treasure trove of information out there and thanks to the bridge bloggers I found on my sojourn, I will definitely be tapping into the international blogosphere more often.

As for migrating to Singapore? I think I’ll wait the recession out.

Wandering Wikipedia

Well, I’ll admit it. Editing a Wikipedia entry is not my favorite job. Figuring out how to edit a Wikipedia entry was relatively easy. Making the edits was difficult. Acutely aware of not trying to offend any Wikipedia-obsessed editors who were ‘watching’ the page I was editing, I made the changes I thought were required. I was careful to provide sufficient references, cite credible sources and ensure that I was adding useful information.editcut

Satisfied with my changes, I hit save and waited for the bloodbath to begin. As a first-time Wikipedia editor, I had been warned: the seasoned Wiki editors were ruthless.  To be fair, Wikipedia does warn you:

“If you don’t want your writing to be edited mercilessly or redistributed for profit by others, do not submit it.”

Five minutes later. Intact. Maybe the ‘wiki warriors’ were busy.

A few hours later. Untouched.

The next day. Miracle. It’s all still there.

Maybe they still hadn’t found my page.  Or maybe, I had managed to please the Wikipedia Gods.

Riding The Stock Market — On Your iPhone

Roller coasters are not for the faint-hearted. Neither are stock markets.

But if you are used to navigating the ups and downs of the volatile markets, you may appreciate this iPhone application, which – among other things – lets you take a virtual roller coaster ride of your favorite stock charts.

AirCoaster Online, a 3D high-speed roller coaster simulator developed by Ziconic, allows you to ride auto-generated tracks or create you own using their multi-touch track editor. Spice up your ride by adding sound effects or changing your viewing angle.

Experiencing the stock market on a roller coaster lends an interesting perspective on market volatility.

Definitely innovative.

Here’s what the Dow Jones Industrial Average feels like on a roller coaster. I’m told you may need a brown paper bag for the Apple stock track.

Calling The Oval Office

A direct line to the Oval Office? Apparently, it’s possible.

Keeping his promise of running an open and more responsive White House, President Obama on Tuesday invited the public to use a new feature on called ‘Open for Questions’ to ask him economy-related questions and vote on other submitted questions.

“We’re going to take advantage of the Internet to to bring all of you to the White House to talk about the economy,” says President Obama in a video, now available on You Tube. On March 26, in a special “community-moderated online town hall,” the president will answer “some of the most popular questions.” The event will also be streamed live on on

It will be interesting to watch the President and his new media team attempt to follow through on their promises of a more wired White House.

Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post says: “Expect a herd of organized (and unorganized) Web users to stampede and make it a highly trafficked political hub over the next 48 hours.”

At the time of writing this post, 8,664 people had submitted 9,387 questions and cast 322,284 votes. The most popular question so far?

“As a student, who like so many others works full time and attends school full time, only to break even at the end of the month. What is the government doing to make higher education more affordable for lower and middle class families?
— James, Bloomington, Indiana

According to Techcrunch, the White House will use Google Moderator to determine which questions President Obama should answer on Thursday.

While the “experiment” is definitely a welcome move towards transparency and accountability, it does raise concerns about how questions will finally be selected and the possibility that this kind of voting system may allow the weakest questions to  rise to the top.

There’s no doubt, however, if used effectively, this is a great way to engage the online community.  This is an opportunity for us to ask some tough and relevant questions.

Let’s hope we get more than just old boilerplate in return.

Chicago Tribune’s Masthead Experiment

In their one-day only experiment, Chicago Tribune changed the masthead of Thursday’s print edition to list the Twitter IDs of their top executives and editors instead of their names.


In an interview with CNet, Bill Adee, the paper’s digital editor, says: “To show the many Twitter users among the paper’s audience that the Tribune gets the microblogging service, and to make it easy to get in touch with the top editors and executives, the publication decided to publish, for one day only, the Twitter-friendly masthead.”

What do you think? Is this the future of journalism?

Wikipedia: Trust But Verify?

I admit. Wikipedia is usually my first stop when I’m looking for information. The fact that its entries are often also the first result in a Google search may also have something to do with it. But let me add that it never serves as my main or only source of information. Wikipedia is an incredibly large repository of information and can help as a roadmap for any research.

wikipedia5I use Wikipedia more for background research and basic information than as a source or to verify facts. What I like about Wikipedia is that it sometimes leads me to a wealth of new information — and more reliable and authoritative sources.

There is definitely value in the collective knowledge, power and wisdom of the community. However, the fact that the Wikipedia entries can be edited by anyone – and is often misused by vandals and trolls – does warrant some caution. Tools like WikiTrust and Wikidashboard help in increasing transparency and evaluating the trustworthiness of entries on Wikipedia.

While the information on encyclopedias like Britannica – vetted and reviewed by industry experts – may seem more credible, Wikipedia’s strengths include timeliness and a much more comprehensive coverage.

Interestingly, in a move towards increased transparency, openness — and web traffic, Britannica, primarily a paid service, is now tapping the power of the community by letting users contribute and edit content. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is tightening the reins on its user-generated content and may introduce ‘flagged revisions‘ to ensure greater accuracy for its users. It will be interesting to watch how these changes play out in the battle between Wikipedia and Britannica.

While it is not without faults, Wikipedia enjoys immense popularity because it successfully harnesses collective intelligence.

Like James Surowiecki says in the Wisdom of Crowds:

“The idea of the wisdom of the crowds is not that a group will always give you the right answer but that on average it will consistently come up with a better answer than any individual will provide.”

Marketing Arms, Bollywood Style

Israeli arms dealer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems LTD, apparently decided to court the Indian government — Bollywood style — at the recent Aero India 2009 event in Bangalore, India.

The tacky song-and-dance number even won a nomination for Wired magazine’s Iron Eagle film fest — “a celebration of the awesomely bad videos of the military-industrial complex.”

Stephen Trimble of The DEW Line calls it a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry.”

In an interview with Saurabh Joshi of StratPost, Assy Josephy, Director of Exhibitions for Rafael, says: “The video is to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael.”

Apparently, he’s dead serious.

In an “innovative” effort to market its arms, the video has hip-swaying women — together with a swashbuckling, leather-clad man — dance around garlanded missiles singing:

“Together, Forever, We Will Always Be

Dinga Dinga Dee.”

Need I say more?

Sometimes, Simple Says It Best

After reading hundreds of tech-savvy media strategists wax eloquent about social media on their blogs, this came as a refreshing change. Watch Michael Brito‘s little girls take a stab at explaining social media.

Great job, girls!

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