As I sat glued to my computer screen earlier this week watching the election results from each state stream in, I realized that this was something I had done once before … four years ago, as again, in China, I waited anxiously in a tucked-in Internet cafe in the heart of Beijing to see what larger direction the United States of America would be headed. But this time, instead of just reading the news passively and sharing amongst a smaller group of friends, there was a real opportunity to ENGAGE, to participate or at the very least observe dialogues from not just all over the country, but all over the world, via Facebook and Twitter-streams that were often embedded right alongside interactive media units designed and put together by media organizations like Huffington Post, The Guardian, and CNN, regardless of your physical location.
It is incredible to see what can change in four years, and the type of reporting and data visualization that was available during this year’s election was a reminder of how quickly we innovate in today’s age of computing, and thankfully, how user-centered design and experience has become a key part of the conversation. Four years ago, there was no ‘like’ on Facebook, there were no apps/open Facebook authentication that allowed you to easily share articles and stories with your Facebook networks. And somehow 2008 seems to have pre-dated the explosion of Internet memes. Twitter was not the same global medium it now is, with over 41 million unique visitors monthly (and 32 million tweets alone on Election Day), compared to just 4.5 million unique visitors a month at its peak in 2008. If anything, these past four years can be surmised into the shift towards the ‘connected economy’, enabled by social media.
For all of the innovation there has been, however, in some ways the world has become less connected. Facebook and Twitter which had once been openly available across China were now accessible only behind VPN — 1 billion people who by and large, are not part of this digital global square. As governments continue to grapple with how to address the rise of social media, the number of countries that now censor the internet continues to grow. (I did a study on this in 2010 … I wonder how it’s changed since). And this week, China’s infamously slow internet was only made slower driven undoubtedly by the series of meetings being held in Beijing at the 18th Communist Party Congressional Meetings.
President Obama — this week we rejoice with you in celebrating the American Dream and moving forward together as a nation in preserving the vision that makes this country so, so very unique. And for the next four years, let us continue to innovate, listen, and collaborate in creating a fair and neutral digital environment, being sensitive of the cultural and historical concerns each nation may bear in this dialogue. “The best is yet to come.”