BOSTON — It’s been an interesting week for social media sites, and for globalization. As an added bonus the week also featured those other drivers of human drama: sex, money and power.
First, as GlobalPost's Peter Gelling reported, Facebook was at the center of controversy in Indonesia after the country’s largest Islamic organization — the Nahdatul Ulama — warned that the popular social networking site could be used for flirting, illicit affairs or, gulp, worse.
To avert disaster the clerics said rules should be created for Muslims who want to use Facebook, which if my 364 "friends" are any indication, means they pursue the following activities: gossiping, posting photos of their kids, leaving snarky status updates, or taking quizzes to learn if they’re "a Beatle or a Rolling Stone," or which "1970s Soul Superstar" they most resemble. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Facebook says I’m Mick Jagger and George Clinton.)
The clerics' condemnations sparked a media firestorm in Indonesia, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation and a place where Facebook is huge. Only the U.S., Britain, France and Italy have more users.
Of course, Indonesia is hardly alone in its Facebook infatuation. Some 200 million people around the world have signed up for the site. Clearly, humans like social networking.
So, apparently, do Russian investors, who this week plowed $200 million into Facebook — a 1.96 percent stake that values the U.S. company at a cool $10 billion.
Then there was “Twittergate," an event that roiled the staid landscape of German politics.
The controversy in Berlin? Premature tweeting.
Two German politicians sent out tweets — short text messages to other Twitter members — announcing the outcome of the country's presidential election 15 minutes before official results were made public.
Chastised for this breach of protocol, Christian Democratic Party member Julia Klockner was forced to step down from her party role. Her offending tweet? "People, you can watch the football in peace. The vote was a success." Another pol — Ulrich Kelber — was even more specific in his tweet: "The count is confirmed. 613 votes. (Hörst) Kohler is elected."
As a global phenomenon, Twitter is growing even faster than Facebook. According to web measurement company Comscore, the number of global Twitter users last year surged from 1.6 million to 32 million.
Nor is Germany's "Twittergate" the first time the site has made news with news. Twitter's short message framework — tweets are limited to 140 characters — is ideal for instantly and efficiently spreading information.
As Alex Leff reported in January, Costa Ricans used Twitter to communicate damage reports and create emergency networks following the biggest earthquake in nearly two decades.
Twitter made an impact in Madagascar, too. When the country erupted into political violence in March, a journalist in West Lafeyette, Indiana kept the world informed by collecting and translating tweets from the isolated island nation.
We've seen Twitter used by political activists in the Philippines. The European Parliament has a Twitter feed to help drive interest in its elections. Twitter users have played an important role in the recent controversy over Guatemala's president.
In an attempt to ride this social networking wave, just about every news organization on the planet is experimenting with tweets and Facebook, including GlobalPost.
So the big question: Is social media here to stay? In three characters: yes.
Crazy growth like this — across Twitter, Facebook and local versions popping up in India, China and elsewhere — obviously indicates strong demand. And when people really want something, clever entrepreneurs almost always figure out a way to give it to them.
The other big, and perhaps more relevant, question is this: Can social media pioneers make any serious money?
So far, Facebook and Twitter have had challenges in that department. This week's Russian investment values Facebook at $10 billion — a tidy sum, to be sure — but that's $5 billion less than it was when Microsoft invested in the company in 2007.
Twitter, meanwhile, has only 45 employees to manage its skyrocketing growth. Oh, and it doesn't yet have a working revenue model, though it's trying mightily to develop one.
So this story, clearly, has a long way to run.
But when social media sites finally figure out all the financial aspects — and my bet is that they will — don't be surprised if you first learn about it in 140 characters or less.
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