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Posts Tagged ‘Viral Distribution

This is my rough draft in my work with the W3C E-Gov Interest Group. I wanted to get comments from those working on social media in government as we work to finalize our recommendations. Please keep in mind this is for an international standard, so I have no assumed that 508 compliance is required but rather wrote about what compliance policies in digital age should take into consideration.

Multi-Channel Distribution Standards.

Distribution to Non-Government Websites and Platforms

In an age of connected data, standards are not just about the format of information but are also about accessible and fair distribution. That having been said, a balance must be achieved so that distribution of information does not become a barrier which limits the amount of information which is distributed.

In the digital age, information is key to both economic and social development of societies. Therefore, governments need to prioritize making the most information available through broadly distributed channels over limiting information in order to make it most broadly available and distributed. This is a classic 90/10 effort issue, where the last 10% of effort to broaden distribution and availability to near perfection would take 90% of the effort. Too often governments have opted for an all or none method in information distribution and it has resulted in less distribution and a lesser good for the public as a whole. The amount of information is too vast given the current state of information storage formats and technology to make all information accessible through all conceivable methods and channels. Accepting this fact and opening up government data needs to be the priority.

That having been said, wide-spread availability should not be discarded but rather a system should be in place to determine which information warrants the broadest, most accessible distribution and which information should be posted but resources are insufficient for the broadest possible access.  (Of course in both cases, the format chosen should be a non-proprietary an,d when appropriate, ‘mashable’ one so that the public may redistribute and remix the information if it chooses.) Concern for availability to all may be handled by providing a government sponsored service which can provide specific data in  alternate formats on demand.

This is not a radical departure from traditional accommodations but rather a continuation of choices which have become routine. An excellent example to understand how this is an extension of existing policies is to consider library books and the blind in the US. Library books for the sighted are more widely available and more easily available at libraries across the country,  but Braille versions of books can be accessed on demand through the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped. A similar program could be developed for on-demand access of multimedia material for the handicapped. That having been said, basic accommodations which can easily be built into websites to promote accessibility should be addressed with social media providers by encouraging broad accessibility to their material and links should be provide on multimedia home pages on how to request more accessible versions such as closed captioned videos.

It seems some people are misunderstanding this as advocating abandoning progress in accessibility.  I assure you this is not the case.  But it is simply stating plainly what already occurs throughout society and government already.  If you look at multi-lingual issues, not every document in the US from governments is immediately available in Chinese, or even Spanish for that matter.  I simply am saying if that EVERYONE is better served by as much government information as possible being available in some way and that should be the priority.  It is imply not possible to make everything avilable in all possible ways but when the need arises, on-demand services can supplement  the less broad methods of making information available. I hope this clears it up.

Availability in Social Media and Across the Digital Divide

Availability is determined by 3 factors which form a digital divide in most countries: device, bandwidth or connectivity, and user disability in using the device (commonly known as 508 standards in the US). Device availability varies because interoperability standards but also based on lifestyle, screen size, audio clarity and raw processing power. (My blackberry can play audio and some video but I am not going try to access a lot of that content in reality even if there is a way to squeeze it onto the device.)  Both wider broadband distribution and availability of information on mobile devices can help to solve this issue. One of the ways in which governments are broadening broadband access is through free internet enabled computers at libraries and kiosks. The type of access which is made widely available to citizens for free at public locations as well as the connectivity and devices available at the lowest price points should be considered when choosing data standards, platforms, devices and websites for the bulk of information. If broadly available public access is not compatible with how the majority of a country’s citizens use the internet, then clearly public internet access is not adequate.

Fair distribution on Non-Government Portals.

The lower costs devices and the lower costs access in most countries means that whether a website or platform makes text based information available on low cost mobile platforms should be taken into account. While most platforms are multimedia, there is still often the opportunity to provide some information in text form for mobile access.

The availability of multimedia information should be announced and searchable through text based services so that users who have limited access to multimedia enabled workstations, can find out about resources they need and go to a kiosk or library which better connectivity or devices are available. To prevent those without full access even to discover what is available would effectively block its use, since time and context when accessing the public internet is limited.

Fair distribution becomes an issue when government distributed content through selected websites, platforms or devices creates an unfair advantage for a particular device, platform, distribution network, or website or disadvantages a defined demographic among the citizentry. It seems appropriate for governments not have to expend resources on wide distribution if the bulk of the intended audience is on one platform or website, but some consideration should be taken so that governments do not become unintentional monopoly makers through their social media distribution choices. Again this consideration should not take priority over wide distribution of the bulk of information but be a factor in making policy choices.

Posting Information on the Social Web

The nature of social media information is that it is posted on locations which are not on government servers under its control and is distributed though social connections not through formal organizations. Social media information is distributed on websites which choose whom to allow access to the website and which behaviors are acceptable for participation. Also a user’s activity and connections on a social media website determines to some extent how much exposure they receive to information available on that site. For instance, someone is who is a friend of a person who participates in government discussion boards will be more likely to be exposed to government distributed information than someone who is not similarly friended. Likewise, people who belong to communities who choose to participate in smaller online venues will not be exposed to the government distributed information on the larger venues. For instance, what about the parent who blocks Youtube on the household computer because of objectionable material? Some consideration to the unevenness of social media distribution should be made.

Multimedia central feed for externally published info.

Therefore a government using social media to distribute multimedia, should create a public location which announces distribution of documents and content with links to their openly accessible location.

A central text feed of all distributed info will serve four purposes:

1. Provide the public with a completely open and highly accessible index to content provided through social media channels.

2. Provide the government content in a form isolated from other content to broaden distribution to those who prefer to avoid mixed distribution sources.

3. Provide other smaller content providers and websites a mechanism to have the same government content as larger providers.

4. Provide a central reference location for any on-demand accessibility service requests for government sponsored or partnered services such as closed captioning or braille.

This media index feed could be in the form of a searchable text feed which link to the original documents. The text feed would be searchable from text based mobile devices as well as web browsers. Search would be provided through a tagging mechanism which at the least allows those posting the information to create new search tags and categories. It also may allow the public to tag items to create a folksomy based search. Documents would be in a freely accessible format, so long as that format allows for the same distribution both in context and content to other websites as was carried by government officials. For instance, if a document was associated on a social media website with certain search tags, titles and description attached, those tags should be indicated in this feed.   If a document had hyperlinks or embedded content placed in it by government officials, those hyperlinks and content should be preserved in this centrally stored format.

Video and audio should be available from a link on this central feed in an instantly playable format such as a progressive player linked to cloud based storage so high demand will not slow distribution, as well as a downloadable format which can be used to replicate the distribution on other websites. Again the meta or context data which allows for duplication of the original post to the primarily distribution site should be stored in the feed or the linked files.

In the case of virtual world information distribution, some capture of the virtual world experience would be attempted to replicate the primary message in some way such as a video of the experience. If it is possible to store in an open format 3-D objects or actions, that content maybe also be considered for placement in this central data store.

To the extent that an industry standard is developed to allow easily subscription or importing of documents and audio/video content to alternate media websites and platforms, governments should adopt these methods to support their central feed.


Governments should clearly prioritize distribution and accessibility options which do not pose barriers which would result decrease the amount of information distribution. At the same time some consideration to disabled users, users without high bandwidth and high cost devices, as well as devices, platforms and websites with smaller audiences should be taken for high priority information as well as possible on-demand conversion services. A low-barrier method which could serve as a base from which to achieve these accomodations would be a central text-based multimedia index feed containing hyperlinks to content in open formats. This feed would be searchable from both text based mobile and internet browsers and contain context information which would allow replication of the content posting which were created on non-government websites by government officials.   If possible this central feed would facilitate posting of content to websites by those website owners, so that the websites themselves can opt in to the distribution.

So what is a public service announcement (PSA)?

A nonprofit message distributed voluntarily by commercial entities outlets through media outlets in order to expose the audience to a message.

Goal: Send information to the audience so they are informed by passive viewing.


  1. The audience is leaving the broadcast media.
  2. The free time and space in commercial media is shrinking.
  3. The audience is paying less attention to passive commercials and they are by nature fleeting.

A solution would need to:

  1. Find an outlet where the audience is migrating to.
  2. Remove commercial considerations from distribution.
  3. Create an active message which engages audience members for a long period.

Solution to fit these needs:

1. Online Social Networks (OSNs) as distribution channel for interactive PSAs.
The audience across all demographics is moving to OSNs faster than to any other online media. The news here is what friends, associates and colleagues are doing, reading, thinking and writing. Some OSNs have a large percentage of members who spend more time on the OSN than on watching TV.

2. OSNs put distribution decisions in the hands of audience members.

Individual audience members are the sources for the most valued and trusted content on online social networks. They make decisions based for the most part on personal considerations when it comes to public interest messages. The messages most interesting to the audience at a personal level will get the most distribution.

3. Online widgets can contain interactive messages and create long term engagement with the audience.

Online widgets can be placed on the online social networks at no charge and can be very interactive. They also can stay so long as the audience finds them interesting. They can be updated and even take on a life of their own through new media content which the audience itself contributes.

Interactive and long term engagement create much stronger connections between the audience and the PSA.

4. Added Benefit: OSNs have the potential to spread behavioral change

Recent scientific studies have begun to quantify the power of social networks to spread behavior (See the July 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study on obesity spreading through social networks). Online social networks are after “social networks.” So if behavioral changes can spread through social networks, at least online behavioral changes can spread OSNs. And changes in online behavioral will presumably have an impact on offline behavior.

Social networks can act not only as a distributor channel for a message but also as channels to spread behavioral change, which is something traditional media distribution channels only attempt when their commercial interest is involved.

So what is the new definition of this interactive PSA or (iPSA)?

An interactive message distributed virally by individuals through online communities in order for the message to become part of the conversation between audience members and create long term engagement between the message and message provider.

Goal: Change the behavior of the community by changing the conversations within the community.