I was recently added to World Leader Twitter & Web Directory a project managed by Barclay Browne which I consider both ambitious and very useful for people working in social media and communication.
— World Leader Accts (@VITweeple) September 17, 2013
As we can see from the about page of their blog:
One essential element to the Electronic Diplomatic Dialogue, is being sure of “Who is Whom” among electronic accounts purporting to be those of governments and government officials. Hence, I assembled The “World Leader Twitter and Web Directory,” and have made it freely and publicly available with the simple goal of facilitating clear dialogue via Twitter both among government and elected officials and between world leaders and their constituents.
Now, I managed to get in touch with Barclay Browne, the man behind the scene and I asked him a few questions about his projects, ideas and goals for the future.
After joining Twitter, Barclay had the privilege of connecting with a group of individuals who care deeply about the larger world and their capacity to give to it. This crew who call themselves the #TFF’s have chirped their support and enthusiastic encouragement of Barclay’s development of the directory for over a year and a half now.
Barclay says she would never have met or connected with any of them if she had not joined the fray of public discourse that is alive and well in the Twitterverse.
When one has the encouragement of people who have such great experience, it matters.
Barclay is the most part a “Twitterista,” although she does blog a bit and makes use of other digital tools for communication. She represents no formal or official group and labels himself a Twittizen.
Here is the interview I had with her.
- Barclay, this project is an absolute treasure for social media professionals and digital networkers. How did you come up with this idea?
Marco, I’m going to bask in the glow of that question for a moment! [Insert Cute ‘Happy Puppy’ Pic Here!] The “World Leader Twitter and Web Directory” sprang out of my own curiosity essentially. When I first joined twitter a couple of years ago I wondered what my own President (@barackobama) was communicating via Twitter. I also wondered what other heads of government were tweeting, and what, if anything, were they tweeting to and among one another. After some searching, I realized it is rather difficult to locate authentic ‘World Leader’ and Government Twitter Accounts.
One challenge to finding legitimate Twitter accounts is that there are lots of accounts that mimic the identity of public officials and institutions. I certainly am not the only who has asked “Is this the ‘real so-and-so’s’ Twitter account?” This still is an issue in Twitter. Further, there are many defunct ‘eggs’ still in existence: accounts that probably were opened by an official institution but were abandoned and left undeleted.
I also realized there was no coherent central site that provided authentic Twitter and Web contact information for heads of government, foreign ministers, etc. The World Wide Web is rich with information. However, that information is often scattered and spotty.
So, I just started gleaning Twitter accounts of public officials and offices and putting them into a little directory. I then made the directory available publicly with the thought that the information I had gathered might be useful to others. I also activated the @VITweeple account to support the directory with Twitter Lists and started a blog at WordPress. Over the last 18 months, the “World Leader Twitter and Web Directory” has grown to contain some 1,980 Twitter Accounts, 2,315 Websites, and more than 1935 Very Important Tweeple (#VITweeple).
I have tried to organize the directory in a way that makes sense to me. I certainly hope the information is relevant to others and that it is organized in a way that streamlines access to governments and public officials. One of my goals has been to strip away –not add to – complexity while still making available a large amount of information.
[As an aside: I have realized there are several technical features of Twitter that lend recommend it as a source for compiling an extensive directory. First, Twitter Handles are by necessity short in length. They also work well as ‘Identifiers’ and “Locators’ at same time. That is, the name of the Twitter Handle, if crafted properly, conveys identity of a group or individual, and it works as an Electronic Address: e.g. @European_Union is both the electronic address and name of the organization. Moreover, it is my view that Twitter Handles can be permanent/life-long identifiers on the Internet of things. I am a fan of prominent elected officials having a portable personal Twitter Handle and using a separate official office Twitter Handle. @fhollande, for example travels with President François Hollande the person; whereas @elysee clearly is the Office of the President of France. Also, in-line Twitter Lists allow for quick access to many accounts all at once and bolster a well-curated directory.]
- It also seems to be quite a lot of work. Do you operate on your own or do you have somebody else to assist you?
I’m flying solo here! By my guesstimate, I have invested about 1 hour per website in researching, compiling, curating, formatting, publicly posting the directory and updating the @VITweeple Lists. Yes. That’s on the order of 2,300 to 2,500 hundred hours. I say this as an indication of how time intensive it still is to find authentic website, Twitter, names and contact information of public officials and compile them in a coherent, streamlined format. Some governments’ websites are tedious to navigate, have outdated information, or are in languages in which I am not literate. I try to make sure the information in the directory is accurate and precise. That means I’ve spent quite a lot of time triple-checking my own work. I do worry about having too many errors in the directory.
- Which method do you use to collect and categorize this data?
I use five basic techniques: 1) One degree of separation — that is, I look at other people’s Twitter Lists and who they follow; 2) I try to pay attention to “@” mention of names of World Leaders, etc. 3) The old ‘grind and find’ approach — searching for intergovernmental and government websites by name and searching through their pages; 4) ‘Working’ directories — I run through other directories and listings of public officials and institutions and track down website and twitter accounts from them; 5) Very helpful people send me Twitter accounts.
- I see that people can make donations for your project. Have you managed to obtain any other source of revenue within this project? Any sponsorship or endorsement?
Not yet. I am open to suggestions on finding financial support. [Heck, I’d even take Euros!] Gökhan Yücel (@goyucel) one of the founders of Yeni Diplomasi (@YeniDiplomasi) has graciously reached out to me. And Yeni Diplomasi now hosts the directory also (http://www.yenidiplomasi.com/ ). I hopeful that collaboration will flourish in the future.
- Who do you think are the main people, businesses or institutions who could benefit from your directory?
A central goal of the directory is to facilitate dialogue between public officials and their constituents, we ‘the Tweeple,’ so to speak. So, I think anyone who is interested in constructively engaging in political public discourse would benefit from the information in the directory.
Who is not a diplomat now? The reason I ask is that I think our engagement with one another via Social Media holds the potential of reshaping political life. It is reshaping the roles of both citizens and elected and public official, and clearly I hope in positive ways. Digital Social Media empowers more people to collaborate and participate effectively in finding practicable solutions to the real problems that challenge us all.
- Could you tell me who is the statue on your Twitter profile?
Oh, that’s Pericles @VITweeple. Pericles lived in Ancient Athens from 495 to 429 B.C., was considered a brilliant orator, spearheaded the construction of the Parthenon and was a central figure in Athenian Democracy. He presumably said: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” So, be warned!
[An image of the remnants of a device Ancient Greeks used for assigning people to Jury Duty is part of the Header Image @VITweeple. And pictures of the Bema (speakers’ platform) on Pnyx Hill just across from the Acropolis are on the @VITweeple Wallpaper. Put yourself in Pericles Sandals.]
- Which are, in your opinion, the countries and international organizations that are more active on Twitter?
I’m going to qualify my answer with 3 points. First, as I said above, there is still uneven access to robust Internet service and IT support in the world. Second, I don’t ‘watch’ every account all the time. Third, I am not fluent in most of the beautiful living languages spoken today, which means I personally miss a lot of content.
That being said, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico have well-articulated presences on Twitter. They each host active accounts for all the three main branches of government: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Kazakhstan has recently increased its Twitter profile in the last year quite a bit.
On the whole, the European Union and Commission and European Governments are all doing a great job currently. I know the EU and EC host robust multi-lingual twitter feeds. [I do not currently have every language version of the European Union’s (@European_Union) main Twitter feed in the directory.]
I do like reading Neelie Kroes’ (@NeelieKroesEU) posts. She communicates the substance of policy in 140 characters well, and she’s willing to share her thinking as policy is developed. I also find the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office (@foreignoffice) timely in posting official responses to breaking events via Twitter.
- What about the least active countries or institutions?
I am reluctant to offer criticism of any particular foreign government here. I will say I have come across lots of government websites that are in need of investment and upgrading. Again, there is a real issue of uneven access to reliable Internet service and professional IT support. My own personal language barriers also prevent me from making some sort of rationalized assessment.
Let’s see. The U.N. General Assembly is taking place as I type. Only 40 Permanent Member States of the United Nations (out of 193) host Mission or Ambassador Twitter accounts. I would like to see that number increases dramatically.
I have been surprised that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well as the U.S. Supreme Court have yet open official Twitter accounts. I hope that changes soon.
And yes, we are all waiting (I see this a lot on Twitter.) for the newly re-elected Angela Merkel to finally join the Twitterverse! How do we convince her that it’s a friendly place?
- What do you think about the prompt evolution of social media? Can you already envisage a replacement for Twitter and Facebook in the future?
I would develop a software program called “Streamline” or “Integrate.” This program would facilitate Cross-Platform Posting of the full range of content — from images and video to sound files and written policy — that governments and public officials need to publicize. There just isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ Social Media Platform that can accommodate the full spectrum of ways in which human beings communicate. So, “Integrate” would 1) allow diplomats and public figures to present a coherent uniform message across a variety of Digital Platforms and 2) allow them to gather citizen input from multiple accounts and platforms into one central electronic bin.
One of the biggest challenges for public institutions is presenting a consistent message across the ever-growing spectrum of Social Media Platforms. There is a risk of over exposure at the expense of substance and content. There is also the real risk of merely increasing cacophony and diluting one’s own message. What I hope is that at some point governments and public institutions will coalesce around a reliable ‘core set of Social Media Platforms’ to interact in the digital sphere.
From a citizen’s standpoint, it can all get too complicated too quickly. And one is left asking: “Where do find x or y or z information? Should I look at Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus, etc., to know what my Foreign Minister is saying today?”
- What do you plan to do once the directory is complete?
Democracy, if it’s done right, is never completed. That is to say, there are always new names and faced for a directory curator to keep up with. [Diplomats work from Sun to Sun, but a curator’s work is never done.] So, the directory will never be done.
I do envision an endpoint of the directory from a structural standpoint. There is a format/version of the directory I’d like to build based on adapting a fusion of a couple of Digital Directories I’ve come across. I currently have neither the resources nor IT savvy to bring that about. Time is money, as they say. I think it would simplify directory curation on the behalf of governments and public institutions and it would make finding public officials much easier for citizens and journalists.
Do I have some grand plan to make a splash in the Digital Diplomacy world? I don’t think so. The directory project has led me to some degree and not the other way around. If I can constructively contribute my small insight into improving the fluidity of public discourse on Digital Media, I’d gladly do so.
- What would you like to say to communication professionals who don’t believe that social media is irreversibly going to take more and more space within the way people look for information?
Digital Social Media open a great horizon called the ‘Synergy of Shared Insight’ that no other innovation has afforded us previously. Solutions to the problems we all face are within us and among us. And I would say to them that although the learning curve is a bit steep, the benefit of effectively engaging others via Digital Media opens possibilities that one simply cannot pre-envision or have access to otherwise. For this reason, the future is paved with electrons.
Moreover, the Twitterverse is waiting for their essential voice. Dive in, the water’s fine!