Saturday, 20 April 2013

President Obama & Sunil Tripathi: Social Media Lessons

Following the drama we've seen in Boston this week, the role and power of social media to inform and misinform has once again been highlighted.  I had written about this earlier in the week (Lessons from Boston and the Dubai Tremors) but it was refreshing to see President Obama address the issue head on in his comments following the capture of Suspect #2.
President Obama at the inter-faith service in Boston.
He said as follows:
In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there's a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important that we do this right. That's why we have investigations. That's why we relentlessly gather the facts. That's why we have courts. And that's why we take care not to rush to judgment -- not about the motivations of these individuals; certainly not about entire groups of people.
(To read his full statement, click here).

It is very easy to jump to conclusions and fuel a rumour mill with misinformation.  I know I was guilty of this earlier this week when I started mentioning to people Suspect #2 was Sunil Tripathi.  I got this information from what I thought were reliable social media feeds and was gutted to find out an innocent man who has been missing was being wrongly mistaken as a bomber.  You have to feel for his family in such times and when I saw the video his family posted on YouTube for his return, you feel even worse.  If you haven't seen the video, click on it below.

Some sections of the media got it right. They held back in giving names, ethnic backgrounds and further details of the suspects when it seemed everyone was talking about it.  I now understand and respect those sections of the media that did.  It is not only about first to market but about being respectful about the fact that you are dealing with people, families, emotions and reputations.

There is a Facebook page for Sunil Tripathi also and if you can, please do follow it (

I don't know Sunil Tripathi but hope his family has a sense of closure one way or another.  I'm sure the video only shows glimpses of how they've missed him and how important he has been to them.  We've seen the role of people in helping capture the two Boston bombing suspects, I just hope the same people can also help bring Sunil (or Sunny as his family calls him) home.

Update (21 April, 2013): Sunny Tripathi's siblings spoke to a media outlet in an interview shortly after their brother's name was cleared.  Have a look at that link here.  The Twitter account setup to post updates is @findingsunny.

Update (27 April, 2013): Sunil Tripathi's body was recovered in the waters off Providence, Rhode Island.  My condolences are with the family during their time of grief and hope his soul rests in peace.  Losing a loved one is never easy but not having any closure can be more difficult I'd imagine.  RIP Sunny.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Lessons from Boston and the Dubai Tremors

In less than twenty-four hours, two major events have stood out on my social media feed: the Boston Marathon tragedy and the tremors we felt here in Dubai.

Both impacted me.  I went to university in Boston and lived there for three wonderful years and I loved the spirit of the city.  In the case of the tremors we felt in Dubai today, I like most of the city felt the ground shake and there is natural concern that you have for the safety of your dear ones after events like this.

In both cases, I saw Twitter and Facebook explode.  In both cases, I saw concern, sorrow and fear.  

In both cases though, I saw people intentionally or unintentionally take advantage of the situation or jump to dangerous conclusions on social media.  

For those who took advantage of the situation, shame on you.  This is not a time to promote your brand or product with earth-shattering offers.  

For those who started jumping to conclusions that weren't fully thought out, remember, just because you can think it, doesn't mean you need to type it.  If you are going to type it, think about it and ask yourself would feel comfortable saying what you're about to type in front of a larger gathering.  If you think you wouldn't be comfortable talking about it in a larger forum, then don't type it.

Social media is powerful.  Understanding the power it holds and applying it aptly though is something many of us tend to forget when we're excited.  Take a deep breath, think through what you're doing and remember, it's not always about being first to express your thoughts but about being thoughtful in what you express. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

My Experience with Paywalls

Back in March 2011, I wrote two blog posts about the New York Times wanting to introduce a Paywall (if you don't know what a Paywall is, click on the link of the NY Times story) and whether if you paid for content, did you then know it was true?

I will admit, I was a bit of a skeptic.  If you can get all the news you want for free and if you've got Apps like Flipboard or Zite, why would you go out of your way to pay for digital news content?  About two years later, I've realized the answer: you pay for quality.

A little over a month ago, I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal.  Not the print edition which I occasionally used to get free copies of delivered to my doorstep (and which I never went through) but the digital edition which allowed me access the Wall Street Journal's content via it's website, iPhone / Android App and iPad App.  The Wall Street Journal has come great content and often times I'd find certain stories were only available to subscribers and one day I gave in to the temptation and put myself down for a trial subscription.

Nothing is ever free and even though the offer from the Wall Street Journal offered some freebies, it still meant I had to give them my credit card details and pay for their minimum period digital subscription.  The first time I tried this, the transaction didn't go through.  I tried a second and a third time till I was lucky the fourth time around.  The only thing I didn't realize the fourth time was that I subscribed to a one year subscription.  I was still unsure what to do but a few days into it, I realized, this subscription was one of the best investments I've made for a very long time.

Apart from the news stories, they've got some good video content on there which is great when you don't want to read through an entire news story or want some extra analysis.  The iPad and iPhone Apps aren't the best to use but with the newsletters you get from the Journal, you're flooded with more content than you can imagine.

Then yesterday, after a brief coffee with Narain Jashanmal of Jashanmal Bookstores, I started talking about my paywall experience and he brought up the topic of the New York Times paywall and how this had done well for the newspaper publisher.  I then found myself subscribing to this as well last night (though I made sure to sign up for a four-week plan this time around).  It is only when I came to writing this post, I realized I went full circle on the issue of the New York Times Paywall.

As an outlay, I've found paywalls will cost you about USD 200-250 per year.  This may be a difficult pill to swallow for those of us who are used to getting newspapers for close to nothing in UAE given the fact that most newspapers give you back discount vouchers or free gifts with your subscription but it is an investment you'll appreciate.

I know I end up sharing a lot of the content I've read on the Wall Street Journal on platforms like Twitter or Facebook but more importantly, I've shared a lot of this content with my colleagues in the office as well.  My online reading habits may have changed slightly but given that you have so many places you could find content, it's always easier to have it formatted in a format you're used to.  With the Wall Street Journal (and maybe in future the New York Times), the same has become something that I've gotten used to and yes, I do believe there is a future for Paywalls.