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Singapore to Combat Dengue with Social Media

(Cross posted to Bench Press)

Singapore is a fascinating country – despite the lack of what most in the West would recognize as democratic freedom, it consistently ranks well in terms of lack of corruption and high and growing standard of living for its people.

It is also one of the boldest when it comes to instituting policies and reforms: they were the first to implement a congestion tax to help manage traffic. Unlike most countries, Singapore is open to competition and investment from foreigners in strategic areas like telecommunications, power generation, and financial services. Singapore has also been extremely active in attempting to build up its capabilities as a center for life sciences excellence.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that they are among the first countries to actively utilize social media applications like Facebook and Twitter to help deal with a public health risk like Dengue Fever (from The Jakarta Globe):

The city-state’s National Environment Agency (NEA) plans to roll out … providing information on the latest dengue clusters or areas that have been earmarked as high-risk – on these new media platforms within the next three months … Through Facebook and Twitter, the public will also be able to post feedback or provide tip-offs. For example, if Singaporeans notice an increase in the number of mosquitoes in your neighbourhood or find potential breeding sites, they can alert NEA officers by posting on the agency’s Facebook page or tweeting the NEA account. “We need to put more information out in the public space, so more people can be informed and take action,” said Derek Ho, director of the environmental health department at NEA. “Leveraging on new media channels such as Facebook and Twitter is a good way to do that.”

A refreshing understanding of the uses of social media by a government agency – more interesting than that, though, is the work Singapore’s NEA is doing to build image recognition capabilities into smartphone apps like the NEA’s iPhone app to help field workers (and potentially the public) track and identify mosquitos and mosquito larvae!

The NEA is also in the process of developing a mosquito-recognition program that can identify the species of mosquito from a photograph of its pupae or larvae. With such software, and with the help of a mini microscope that attaches to the camera on a personal digital assistant or cellphone, NEA officers will be able to take photographs of larvae or pupae found in mosquito-breeding sites and instantly find out if they belong to the Aedes species, which spreads dengue … When it is ready, the agency hopes to be able to integrate it with the NEA iPhone application, so that the public or grassroots members conducting checks around the neighbourhood can use the technology as well.
Early identification will allow the NEA to act more swiftly to curb the spread of dengue in potential high-risk zones.

Very cool demonstration of the power of smartphones and of a government that is motivated to try out new technologies to tackle serious problems.


Ye Olde Social Media

I’ve written before about my love for the Economist. One of the reasons I stated before were their irreverent titles/illustrations/covers. As a social media aficionado, I had to share this amazing cover. This will hopefully tickle you as much as it did me 🙂 [apologies for the poor resolution, this is the best quality cover I could find on the Economist website – the main blocks of text that you can’t see are, on the TV: “news breaketh”; on the wall, from left to right: “Pitt the Younger on Tumblr”, “Gratis Wye-Fye”, and “Marie Antoinette’s Blog: New Cake Recipe”; pamphlets towards the bottom right from top to bottom: “Wikye Leakes Latest: Josephine Bonaparte’s emails”, “Tea Party Gazette: Bachmann Doth Rock”, and “Chronic Times”]


On a more substantive note, the special report on the future of news which inspired the cover was quite interesting and I’d recommend any one who’s interested in the future of journalism and the news business to take a look.

(Image credit – Economist)



image A week or two ago, I had a conversation with a couple of coworkers about the use of blogs/social media to gather information about subjects (and hence justify why I spend so many hours on Google Reader). They were fairly skeptical of the ability of blogs to do the same job that the New York Times or the Economist did.

Although we didn’t settle the debate (it takes time to convince the uninitiated), I had three basic responses:

  1. Speed – Services like Twitter are now so fast that there is even some talk about leveraging Twitter as an early warning system/communication system for disasters.
  2. Insight – News agencies don’t always provide insight or analysis. They relay talking points and soundbytes. They wrap it up with fancy “wrapping paper”, but they don’t reliably provide useful insight. Blogs can be a great source of insightful commentary and background — especially for things that are out of scope or out of the reach for many traditional news sources.
  3. Reputation – One issue my coworkers had was that nobody was regulating what bloggers said. “Why should you trust what a blogger has to say?” I replied, “Why should you trust what the New York Times is saying?” The answer to the original dilemma, of course, is to only read blogs which you trust. “But how do you know who to trust?” You don’t. But, while you might not know if you can trust a single random journalist from a single newspaper, thanks to the power of blogging, I can quickly read blog entries by Ezra Klein, Greg Mankiw, Megan McArdle, and Tyler Cowen and not only get four insightful accounts (often with sources for me to get more information) from people I trust more than a random reporter for a newspaper, but compare their accounts and perspectives to formulate my own informed opinion. Not so easy to do with even a newspaper editorial section.

Moreover, its not like the traditional media aren’t using Twitter/Wikipedia/blogs to do their own research: (HT: PhysOrg)

An Irish student’s fake quote on the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia has been used in newspaper obituaries around the world, the Irish Times reported.

Shane Fitzgerald, 22, a final-year student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin, told the newspaper he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

Fitzgerald told the newspaper he picked Wikipedia because it was something a lot of journalists look at and it can be edited by anyone.

“I didn’t expect it to go that far. I expected it to be in blogs and sites, but on mainstream quality papers? I was very surprised about,” he said.

(Image Credit)

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Employer social networking

Did you read my post on the pitfalls of having Social Networking profiles while maintaining a profession identity and think, “Ben’s just exaggerating”?

imageThink again (HT: Christine), a survey found that over 20% of employers do look (and an additional 10% will start looking soon) for the social networking profiles of jobseekers, and, in fact, 1/3 of employers have found information which caused them to drop a job candidate.

But, as I mentioned before, instead of thinking of this as a reason to restrict access to your Facebook account to only those who know your magic 52-digit password, think of it as an opportunity to put your best foot forward. After all, 1/4 of employers found information on social networks which helped convince them to hire a candidate.

So, what to do? First step, clean out your profile pages of:

  • Drug/alcohol use: Yes, it’s cool that you drank your weight in beer at that keg party, but that’s really not what your employer wants to see
  • Inappropriate photos: Unless you’re interviewing for a position as an adult film star or a mafia enforcer, leave out those “compromising” pictures
  • Examples of poor communication: “I’s am can communicateding really goodly” and other less dramatic examples of poor spelling and bad grammar don’t reflect well on your attention to detail or your ability to communicate with your coworkers, clients, and superiors
  • Bad-mouthing people at work: It doesn’t matter how bad the boss or how obnoxious the coworker, bad-mouthing them on a public forum reflects very poorly on you and your professionalism.
  • Evidence that you misrepresented yourself on your resume: Writing on your resume that you have an MBA from Harvard doesn’t make it true, especially if your Facebook profile says you’re a high school dropout.
  • Confidential information about past employers: This is not only stupid, but illegal.

Second step? Add some information to present a “more balanced” view of you online:

  • “Compatible” interests: Nobody expects you to be super-interested in everything your employer (current or prospective) does, but you should be able to show some baseline level of enthusiasm for the job that you’re trying to land.
  • “Professional” photos: As much as employers would deny it, a lot about a first impression is visual. So, while you don’t need to take down all the pictures of you from your trip to Cancun, you should definitely make sure there are pictures of you up there looking sharp and presentable.
  • Depth of thought: Want your employer to think you’re smart and goal-oriented? Put something on there that makes them believe it. Link to interesting and thought-provoking articles or blogs. Include quotes which convey your personality the way you want to be thought of.
  • Evidence that your resume is accurate: It never hurts to befriend real coworkers or classmates, or join online communities/groups which reflect the accomplishments on your resume.
  • Get Linkedin: I used to think that LinkedIn was just Facebook, but for a slightly older demographic. But then, I read Guy Kawasaki’s great list of ten ways to use LinkedIn, and then watched consultants at my firm use it to get access to interviews and sources of information which I had thought inaccessible. It’s real and has a ton of value.
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