Monday, July 6, 2009

Sirusho, wikipedia and cataphracts 1.0
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday June 12, 2009

Washington - Before launching what I hope will become a new regular Armenian Reporter feature, just a few general thoughts on the subject of the Internet.

It has become a cliché to say that the popularization of online technologies has fundamentally altered our lives. This change over the last 20 years has affected the way individuals worldwide communicate with one another, entertain themselves, consume news, and, increasingly, trade goods and do work.

The generation gap is slowly disappearing. There are some weeks when I exchange more e-mails than phone calls (regular or over the Internet) even with my parents, who are relatively new Internet users. My family is more likely to see photos or videos of their grandchildren online rather than in print or on disc. And you are more likely to read these words on your computer screen than on a printed page.

From 2000 to 2008, the number of Internet users more than quadrupled from 361 million to 1.6 billion out of an estimated global population of 6.7 billion people. This is nearly every fourth person in the world. With ready Internet access on most new telephones and improved and inexpensive cellular connections, it is likely that world's entire population will have online access in the next decade.

This new organization of humanity into personal e-mails, websites, blogs, and Facebook, Tweeter, and YouTube accounts can seem cacophonous, dizzying, and often distracting. Certainly, this new array of media is becoming an evermore significant challenge for traditional media, whose readers, listeners, and viewers have migrated to the web in droves.

But it has also provided mass media with unique new opportunities. One is to study people's preferences and attitudes with an ease and accuracy that is unprecedented. By simply checking Internet monitoring traffic sites, one can learn how this newspaper's readership changes month-to-month and even how popular this article is compared to others.

This is intended to cast a look on what we and our readers believe are the more important trends in human relations as reflected online.

Since our newspaper's determined focus is on things Armenian, this inaugural review will take advantage of the aforementioned measuring tools to look at what the world's most popular Internet gateways - places where most of humanity find what they are looking for on nearly every subject - have to offer on the subject of Armenians. Or, in effect, what it means to be Armenian in the world today.

According to the regularly updated, the five most popular websites worldwide are Google, Yahoo, YouTube (also owned by Google), Facebook, and Microsoft's Live (most recently branded as Bing).

When searching for "Armenian" (or most other terms) on Google, Yahoo, or Live one is invariably directed to relevant entries in Wikipedia, a collaborative user-created encyclopedia that anyone can edit and which itself is the seventh-most-visited website in the world.

In recent years, Wikipedia has trumped all other established reference sources. Today, having a well-written and updated reference page on Wikipedia is often more important than having one's own website.

Wikipedia's "Armenia" page is "semi-protected," meaning that only registered users can edit its content which - a result of more than five years of updates by volunteers - on first glance appears comprehensive and accurate.

On YouTube, entertainment videos rule. And it is Sirusho who continues to represent Armenians after performing in the Eurovision song contest last year. Three separate videos of Sirusho's "Qele, qele" have been viewed more than a million times each. No other video on an Armenian subject comes close.

This year's Eurovision contestants Inga & Anush with "Jan, jan," a video that has been online only three months (as opposed to Sirusho's more than a year), are a distant second with over half a million views.

Oddly enough, when sorted by "Relevance" the most popular Armenian-themed video is a re-play from a computer game "Total war" pitting forces of Rome, Armenia and other ancient states. As it turns out, Armenia is the foe to beat in that game with an especially tough armored cavalry known as cataphract.

Even stranger are the second and third "relevant" entries. They are, respectively, a talking parrot and a Chinese student from Beijing University practicing their Armenian-language skills.

Finally, what do Armenians concern themselves with on Facebook? If one is to judge by most popular groups, it is seeking to "Recognize the Armenian Genocide." A group by that name launched by several Armenian-American students had more than 32,000 members as of this week.

An apparently rival "Armenian genocide? Bull****!!" group created by a lone Turkish activist has grown to more than 23,000 members. Meantime, a group set up by several dozen individuals affiliated with a number of Turkish universities "Armenian genocide? Bull****!" (note just one exclamation sign) has 8,300 members (with at least some overlap in membership likely).

The second most popular Armenian group "Armenia," also started in the United States, has just over 3,800 members and it too seeks to highlight the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign.

To sum up, Armenia's Eurovision contestants, echoes of the campaign for and against Armenian-Genocide recognition, and little-known volunteers behind Wikipedia's Armenian entries are the three most influential elements shaping the Armenian image online.

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