Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trip Report: Google and YouTube in Iraq

Earlier this month, a small team from Google and YouTube spent a week in Iraq on a trip arranged by the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO). Our goals were to explore opportunities for Google in Iraq, to understand the landscape of Internet access and connectivity in the country during this critical transition period, and to bring top-voted questions from YouTube to Iraqi leaders in a series of interviews. We met with students, private sector companies, NGOs and Iraqi leadership in the Kurdish city of Erbil in the north, and in Baghdad.

Pictures taken by the Google/YouTube team in Iraq: Harry Wingo (Policy), Carrie Farrell (Google.org), Debu Purkayastha (Corp Dev), Olivia Ma (YouTube), Mary Himinkool (Business Development), and Steve Grove (YouTube).

Regardless of your feelings about the Iraq War, it’s immediately evident upon arrival just how completely the country missed the Internet boom during Saddam Hussein’s regime. Internet penetration rates in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East—somewhere between one and eight percent. Only 15 percent of Iraqis say they use the web, and the largest percentage of them live in Baghdad. There are no commercial data centers in Iraq and much more fiber connectivity is needed to meet consumer needs. Most connections are via satellite, and those who do have connections pay dearly for it—we heard estimates of up to $150 U.S. dollars per month for a 512kb connection. To incentivize and enable private companies to lay more fiber in Iraq, a complex set of roadblocks must be addressed—from security concerns to regulatory frameworks to licensing structures. As the country is still struggling to form a government more than seven months after its last election, much of this progress has been stalled.

There are signs of progress, however. Mobile penetration has skyrocketed in Iraq in the past seven years, from effectively zero percent in 2003 to over 70% today. And the Iraqi people are highly educated. We met with dozens of computer science students at Salahaddin University in Erbil and at Baghdad University, and though they lack equipment and resources, they’re highly motivated to innovate and believe the web is a critical component of their economy’s future.

Many young people in Iraq and around the world submitted questions in Arabic and English for three interviews we conducted in partnership with Middle Eastern news agency Al Arabiya. Google Translate enabled anyone to vote on their favorite questions regardless of language, and we brought the top five questions to current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil, Dr. Barham Salih, and Iraqi politician and once the interim Prime Minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi. Here is the television special that Al Arabiya produced showcasing their answers:

The Iraqis we met consistently expressed their desire for increased access to the web and for more access to content and tools in both Kurdish and Arabic. We believe access to information and high-speed connectivity to the cloud will be key to the future of the country. The power of the web to change people’s lives grows the further one gets from Silicon Valley, and we look forward to continuing our work with companies, governments and citizens in Iraq and other countries in transition.

Mary Himinkool, New Business Development, and Olivia Ma, YouTube News & Politics

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pat Quinn targets Gleeks with new YouTube campaign ad

Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Pat Quinn (D) is taking a page from Will Schuster's book this week -- his latest YouTube campaign ad mimics the fast-paced Glee recap that precedes each new episode. I guess with a name like Quinn, we should be thankful he doesn't appear in the video wearing a Cheerios uniform. Here it is:

You would think that the video would appeal most to Glee die-hards in the Millennial generation but a quick spin through YouTube Insight actually shows us that the video, which has received over 40,000 views since being uploaded three days ago, is actually most popular with men and women, ages 45 and up. Hmm...that seems more like the Principal Figgins than Finn set?

Nevertheless, in a campaign season that has been overwrought with attack ads that are generally mean-spirited, it's somewhat refreshing to see one that uses humor and pop culture to go after an opponent.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Democrats not yet down for the count on YouTube

After a tough 2008, the Republicans came out swinging this year on YouTube. Almost every memorable campaign ad has come from the right side of the aisle - Carly Fiorina's gems, the John Dennis video likening Speaker Pelosi to the Wicked Witch, and of course the clever Frankenstein spoof that Mattie Fein put together. For several months, you may have wondered - where the heck are the Democrats, the party that brought propelled Obama to YouTube super-stardom just two years ago?

Apparently, they've been waiting until ten days before the election to start fighting back. In the past few days, the Dems have uploaded a few videos that are definitely worth taking a look at and there's a common theme to all of them - attack, attack, attack.

In this first video, from Filmmakers for Bill White, the Dems have re-learned a good lesson from 2008. If you can't make great campaign videos for yourself, lean on users and filmmakers to make them for you. There isn't much in here about Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White but it succeeds in making his opponent, Rick Perry, look ludicrous against a catchy beat:

Next up is a more classic campaign ad from Democrat Jack Conway calling out opponent Rand Paul for a statement he made about his God being "Aqua Buddha". However, it's worth mentioning for two reasons. First, in just four days, the video has over 130,000 views on YouTube. Second, it has Democrats divided. Some are upset that Conway has gone after Paul for being a Buddhist, which suggests religious intolerance. Others maintain that it's a solid ad that pins Paul as an outsider in Kentucky. Watch the ad and decide for yourself:

This last ad comes from Democrat Jerry Brown in California and it's quite clever. The video positions Meg White side by side with current and unpopular Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and depicts her parroting exactly what he has said in the past. A smart alignment tactic...I wonder if they used Google's speech-to-text product to create it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

YouTube political commentators join National Economic Advisers in Reuters debate

On YouTube they go by The Young Turk and How the World Works, but this Tuesday Cenk Uyger and Lee Doran will be taking their political commentary beyond YouTube to a special forum on Reuters.com focused on fixing the global economy.

Reuters Editor-at-Large Chrystia Freeland will host the forum, which will feature a debate between Laura Tyson, former Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Glenn Hubbard, who held that same position under President George W. Bush. Tyson is a candidate to replace Larry Summers as President Obama’s top economic advisor and also to head the new federal Office of Financial Information.

Afterward, Freeland will host a live video debate between the progressive Uyger and the conservative Doran. This won’t be the first time that Uyger and Doran, who each boast tens of thousands of subscribers on YouTube, have faced off: Each of them has a strong following on YouTube and a regular audience of comentators who take the debate over the future of our country very seriously. Within the context of the Reuters forum between Tyson and Hubbard, their discussion promises to be lively and full of controversy.

The Forum, entitled “Conflicting Visions: Fixing the Global Economy,” will be hosted on Reuters and YouTube. Check out youtube.com/news around midday Tuesday, when we’ll post the clip.

Steve Grove, Head of News and Politics, recently watched “Health Care, Economic Policy, and Political Polarization in America

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nevada Debate Preview: Crazy juice v. monkey-troubled spending

Next week, Nevada Senate candidates Sharron Angle and Harry Reid will square off in their only debate of the election season - and some of the questions will come from you, through a partnership between YouTube and the Nevada Broadcasters' Association. Want your voice to be heard? You can submit your questions now at www.youtube.com/nevadadebate.

Both candidates been using YouTube creatively to their advantage so, in advance of the debate, let's take a look at their best "made-for-YouTube" work. First up, here's a video that was just released today from the Reid campaign accusing Angle of drinking the "crazy juice" (+1 for the "spiked with DeMint line - clever):

This Angle video also definitely plays the humor card, chiding Reid on his wasteful spending by introducing some colorful examples of stimulus expenditures:

These two videos are definitely entertaining but we're hoping that the debate next week covers serious issues as well - especially the ones that matter to you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An artful approach to cause video

In the age of celeb PSAs and 30-second spots, it's always refreshing to see a beautifully-edited, stylistically-sound video that advocates for a cause. Here's a great example, just released today (it's so well done, you may not even realize it's seven minutes long):

Yesterday we saw a humorous video about homelessness, today it's a gorgeous mini-doc about war in Congo. Could this be a positive trend of interesting cause videos? Hopefully there's more to come...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Under pressure of homelessness (featuring Kermit)

What do you get when you mix a classic Queen anthem with a video featuring the world's most famous frog? You may not expect to get an inspiring video about homelessness but that's exactly what YouTube user Maxmailbag has produced. Totally confused? Watch the video, which is currently racing up the YouTube comedy charts, here:

While homelessness is no laughing matter, it's definitely refreshing to see this video inspiring change in a light and approachable way. The video description includes a link to Change.org where you can help the cause.

Rahm discuesses Chicago Mayoral bid on YouTube

The news is out - Rahm Emanuel will leave his White House post to run for Chicago Mayor. A man who has laid out the Obama Administration's strategy for the past year now turns to YouTube to lay out his campaign strategy:

Looks like Rahm is taking a page out of the Obama playbook, not only by announcing a grassroots tour to interact with voters, but also in his use of YouTube to cultivate online supporters. We'll see if he continues to employ Obama-esque campaign strategies as the election nears.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rock the Vote celebrity PSA turns into rushed voter registration as deadlines loom

R&B singer JoJo was filming a PSA for Rock the Vote, when the organization's director, Heather Smith, reminded her of the deadlines for fall registration. The PSA took a different turn as they walked away from the cameras and hopped online to register.

Monday, 23 states close their voter registration process for the Nov. 2 election. And by Friday 31 states will no longer be registering voters. Go to www.rockthevote.com to register now.