From Lady Gaga to the Kremlin, blogging is king

Social networking is becoming the communication tool of choice, as entertainers, politicians, CEOs and stay-at-home moms compete to get the word out.

If you are one of the many people today who feel like they are getting left in the dust by technological revolutions, take heed: even the Roman Catholic Church has joined the bumpy hi-tech bandwagon. 

On the 80th anniversary of Vatican Radio, which broadcasts the pope's message in 45 languages around the world, it was announced that the Vatican had become the latest disciple of social networking.

"Not having new technical tools at one's full disposal, or not knowing about the most current tools, will mean that one's message will arrive late, will arrive wrong, and might even arrive in vain," Monsignor Peter Wells of the Vatican's secretariat of state said Thursday. "It is therefore essential for Vatican Radio to continue to adapt to these new tools if it wants to be the engine of new forms of consciousness, of awareness: in other words, of a new culture."

The Church must reach out to new media – “from the podcast to the iPad, from social networks like Facebook to micro-blogging platforms like Twitter,” Wells said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

So now even the way to the pearly gates may soon be paved with “blogs”, “tweets” and “pokes”.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak seems to be dying a slow political death one terrible tweet at a time. 

Twitter top brass said they were “humbled” by the Egyptian experience, which has witnessed a wave of desperate tweets rising up from the very heart of the violent protests.

"We're humbled by the way the people there have used Twitter to communicate with each other and people around the globe," the company said in a statement. "We've always believed that the open exchange of information can have a positive impact."

"The power of this technology, the power of social networking to channel and champion public sentiment, has been more evident in the past few weeks than ever before," US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told a “town hall meeting” on Thursday at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.

[For the uninitiated, Twitter is a website offering social networking services that allows its users to send and read messages called tweets – text posts of no more than 140 characters. Users may subscribe to “follow” other users' tweets].

The meeting between the UN ambassador and Twitter comes amid a global debate over social media's role in recent uprisings, which struck other countries of late, including Tunisia, where the president was forced into exile.

In Egypt, however, Mubarak remains stubbornly defiant in the face of the protests, and looks to be digging in for the long haul.  

All of the political turmoil, meanwhile, is playing nicely into Twitter’s hands, not to mention bank account.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Google and Facebook have held “low level” takeover talks with Twitter that puts a price tag on the micro-blogging site as high as $10 billion dollars. No tweet yet on whether or not a deal has been struck.

Tweeting Russia

But, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just proven, social networking media is not just a grassroots phenomenon in search of its political voice. The Russian president’s Twitter and videoblog was just awarded “Best Russian blog” of 2010. Medvedev also won in the “Best statesman’s blog.”  

One of the latest tweets to appear on Medvedev’s account states matter-of-factly: “Checked on security at railway stations – it’s unsatisfactory. The Prosecutor’s General Office will have to deal with it.”

The Russian president was referring to a surprise inspection he made of Kiev Station in central Moscow on Thursday, just weeks after a suicide bomber killed 36 people at the capital's Domodedovo Airport. 

But as a recent communiqué between himself and California’s former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proved presidential tweets can be light-hearted as well.

As the former Republican governor’s career came to a close, the Russian leader wrote on his twitter account: “@Schwarzenegger, wishing you success in this new phase of your life. There are many more interesting opportunities still to come!”

“Thank you! @MedvedevRussiaE. I hope you're having a great new year and can't wait to see you again – maybe skiing?” Schwarzenegger replied a few hours later. 

Medvedev, a mountain skiing enthusiast, was quick to respond: “@Schwarzenegger: Thanks. We agreed – I remember. We’ll definitely find the time.”

Schwarzenegger came to Russia in October, 2010 with a delegation of high-tech executives and businessmen. The Americans were taken on a tour of Russia’s new high-tech research hub Skolkovo, which has been dubbed the “Russian Silicon Valley”.

Due to an ambitious government program to make the internet accessible across the vast territory of Russia, the number of Russian internet users increased last year by 14 per cent, Inessa Ishunkina, Web Index project manager with the international research group TNS, told a conference titled i-COMference on Thursday.

"Today, 59 per cent of Russians over 12 years of age use the internet at least once a month," said Ishunkina, who stressed that in Moscow this figure was slightly higher at 67 per cent. Yet most of the recent changes in internet use have been in the regions. 

"Over the past year the internet audience in the capital has remained stable – there was an increase of only 4 per cent – while in Russia in general, the internet audience grew by 14 per cent," she told Itar-Tass. “That is, the growth occurred mainly in the regions."

Among Russians, the most popular social network is Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, which is visited daily by 12 million people; Odnoklassniki (Classmates) draws 7.2 million Russians a day, while Moi Mir (My World) a reported 5.3 million. Meanwhile, Twitter usage seems to have leveled off for the moment.

"Twitter usage in Russia grew threefold in 2010 – not so much as it did a year ago," said Volnukhin, noting that in 2009 the number of Russian internet users of the microblog network surged by 26 times. "It has been growing slower, as it is already big enough," he added.

Whatever one may make of the ongoing revolution in social networking, it is shaking up the world in ways that are difficult to predict.

Consider the impact of singer Lady Gaga, for example, who has been tweeting like crazy to her 8,094,407 followers, as her latest album “Born This Way” is set for release.

As Gaga explains, the album's first single of the same name is described as a “gay-pride anthem,” which the singer told Vogue magazine she wrote in 10 minutes, which could very well be less time than it took to craft the tweet announcement accompanying the song.

While not everybody, including the Vatican, will agree with Lady Gaga’s artistic contributions, it is at least reassuring to know that a response is just a tweet away.

Robert Bridge, RT