Thursday, March 7, 2019

Innovation in Israel: to the moon and beyond



It’s hard to avoid a jubilant tone in speaking about Israel and innovation when the first lunar spacecraft, made in Israel, is making its way to Earth’s natural satellite. In the last 20 years Israel has become a world leader in new technologies and science and there is no better proof to this claim that the flight of “Bereesheet” (“In the beginning” in Hebrew, the first words in Genesis) that started on February 22 and made Israel the 4th nation in the world, after USA, USSR and China, who sent a spacecraft to the Moon.

Some experts argue that the turning point for Israel’s innovation was in the beginning of the 1990s, thanks to a successful professional integration of the highly educated immigrants from former Soviet Union and as a result of a new form of collaboration between academia and industry encouraged by government. But the truth is that already in the first years after its establishment Israel embarked on innovative solutions to problems that faced many developing countries after the WWII and laid the foundations of its successful journey to innovation… and to the moon.

Instead of looking back, let’s get a glimpse at new innovative trends and solutions being developed in Israel these days. “An Overview of Innovation in Israel 2018-2019” that was recently published by Israel Innovation Authority and which I came across recently, could serve as a perfect guide. Here are a few examples that caught my eye in this document:



Brain Therapy

The Israeli consortium “Brain Stimulation and Monitoring Toolbox”, funded over the course of the past five years by the Innovation Authority, was established in order to develop technological and scientific infrastructure combined with neurological stimulation and monitoring to enable personalized and improved treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The consortium has had several groundbreaking achievements, some of which have led to technological maturity and clinical execution. HaGuide, for example, software developed by Alpha Omega and researchers from the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center, is used in DBS procedures (Deep Brain Stimulation) performed on patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or other disorders. 


Another technological and commercial achievement is a digital platform, for functional brain imaging for psychiatric patients. The integration of the platform in therapy is slated to advance personalized medicine and to offer support for doctors’ treatment modalities.

Broadcasting sport events

The Pixellot startup established in 2013 has developed an innovative system that allows production and broadcasting of a variety of sports events with almost no human intervention. The system it developed includes cameras, tracking capabilities, content manipulation through the cloud, broadcasting to different devices, and exclusively automatic live-streaming, allowing spectators to perform simple move manipulation – all at a low production cost. Since its establishment, the company has already sold roughly 2,500 systems producing 20 thousand broadcasting hours a month.

AI at the service of public health

The national Digital Health Plan is striving to make Israel a key player in the field of digital healthcare. To this end, in 2018, the Authority launched a program for supporting pilots in the field of digital healthcare that are either performed in Israeli healthcare organizations, or that are based on capabilities or the data at their disposal. The Digital Robotics pilot, which stands out among the pilots approved, has developed a computerized system based on AI – the first of its kind – aimed at cutting healthcare costs and improving service. The system, which is designed to be used by medical teams, includes a personalized recommendation engine for patients based on a broad clinical picture. In the context of the pilot program, the system will first be implemented in two healthcare organizations: Meuhedet Health Fund (one of the four Health Funds operating in Israel) and at the Soroka Medical Center’s emergency center in Be’er Sheva.

Remote monitoring of cardiovascular diseases

Vectorious Medical Technologies was conceived in 2011 in the RAD BioMed technological incubator backed by the Innovation Authority. The company offered a groundbreaking solution for remote, continuous, precise, and safe monitoring of patients suffering from cardiovascular disease – one of the leading causes of death worldwide.The inimitable technology enables the implantation of a microcomputer for battery free communication. Thus far, the company has raised over $10 million, including a $2.25 million grant from the European R&D program Horizon 2020 and the Innovation Authority. The exclusive grant has helped the company recruit additional investors and accelerate development and clinical trials. The company is currently conducting trials on human subjects in Germany, England, Italy and Israel, on its way to receiving the necessary regulatory approvals and to market the product. The company projects that the development will reach the European market within roughly six months.

Operation of smartphones and tablets with head movements

The Sesame Enable startup, established in 2013, has developed an exclusive app that allows people with mobility disabilities to operate smartphones and tablets using head movements alone, using the device’s front-facing camera. The company was awarded a substantial grant by the Innovation Authority in collaboration with the national Insurance Institute, to encourage the development of assistive technologies for people with disabilities. 

Solutions offered by the company are already in wide use throughout the US, where the company receives government subsidies. Their technology serves an audience with a wide range of mobility disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, neuromuscular diseases, MS, and cerebral palsy. Recently, the municipality of New York chose the company’s product as a preferred solution for children with disabilities in the city’s public education system, and negotiations are taking place with other US municipalities and states to expand this activity.

The Golan Heights Winery’s innovative wine water

Golan Heights Winery ventured to develop a completely new product: Wine Water. The project led to the construction of a concept based on innovative technology: extracting grape waste reduced in the wine manufacturing process and diluting it with water, so that the nutrients in grape peels and the unique aroma and smell of wine are absorbed by the water. The product made its world debut in July 2018 at the Fancy Food Show in New York and gained unprecedented success, with hundreds of distributors from across the globe seeking marketing rights for the product. It is already being sold by leading chains in the US.

I gave you only a glimpse of the report, and you are welcome to learn much more here: https://innovationisrael.org.il/en/report/innovation-report-2018 . More than any particular piece of technology, it shows a deep commitment in Israel to ”perception that innovation is a key engine for economic growth and wellbeing.”

…And if you don’t like reading reports, look up for a great book by Avi Jorish, “Thou Shalt Innovate” (https://www.timesofisrael.com/thou-shalt-innovate-15-earthshaking-israeli-technologies/). Enjoy! 



Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Upcoming crisis of social networks and what governments should do about it

The word “upcoming” at the title of this post is quite misleading. In the last 2 to 3 years the problems associated with the functioning of the existing social networks turned into a real snowball, or even snow avalanche. A fusion of important political events (US Presidential elections 2016, to take the most conspicuous example), as well as decisions taken by the management of social networks themselves, exacerbated situation and created a crisis. As a result, governments of many countries have taken actions against the social networks practices, ranging from demands to change the privacy policies to restrictions on access or complete ban of networks. But the apex of this crisis is ahead of us.

I will argue here that while governments will try to exert a greater control over the contents published on social networks, and while social networks will be willing (or forced) to adopt their policies to these demands, this one-sided, restrictive and “correctional” approach, will not be able to solve the problems we face today. Governments should consider more complex solutions, because this crisis is not only about social networks, but about our society in general and democratic nature of our institutions and political life. I will suggest one such solution further. But, of course, there are more than one to envisage.

In fact, the problems with social networks began before the attempts of meddling in elections or the role of social networks in phenomenon of “fake news” were exposed. It started about 6-7 years ago when teenagers and even younger kids started to complain about digital harassment they’ve experienced on Facebook from their peers. Today we call this phenomenon cyber-bullying, but back then nobody spoke in these terms. Back then, it was a problem for kids, for their parents, and for teachers, but not something that was considered a national or global problem. The next surprise we became aware of was our (lost) privacy on the networks. That was already a reason for grown-ups to be seriously concerned, but things got only much worse since then. After a short period of grace and photo-ops with world leaders who were courting them, CEOs and senior managers of Facebook, Twitter, Google and other companies, are now being called to testify to US Congress and conduct nasty negotiations with governments unhappy with their policies. In some countries there were no negotiations: they were plainly banned.



What are the main areas of concern with social networks?

Social networks today are platforms for circulation of hatred, incitement to violence, racist, xenophobic and antisemitic posts and other versions of bigotry. Of course, it is not deliberate. Of course, it is not their goal and design. Do you know the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Against their will, social networks became global vehicles of hatred.

Last 5 months I spent in France. I could see firsthand how social movement of "Yellow vests", that had legitimate demands from the government, received massive support of the public (70%), and which organized itself through Facebook, was hijacked by extremists, professional rioters and thugs, as well as by provocateurs, racist and anti-Semites of all kinds. This crisis proved once again (as if after the "Arab spring" we needed more proofs) the power of networks to facilitate grass-roots protest movement, but at the same time it exposed the levels of hatred, misogyny and antisemitism you wouldn’t like to believe exist in France. Social networks were helpless in face of the extremely violent discourse taking place on them.

Let’s refresh our memory: two years ago, Facebook founderwas talking about the new ambition for the network: to build more communities,rather than just encouraging connections between family and friends. Algorithms went through a change, and the new approach implemented. Result? The infamous “echo chamber” effect, that was already taking place in the world of partisan media, was now in a full swing. Of course, nothing wrong if you have a community of astronomers or poetry fans. But what about a community of bigots or anti-Semites? They probably will not report “abusive posts” with racist and antisemitic content, will they? By the way, the situation with other networks is not better. You can easily find racist posts on Twitter or VKontakte.

This uncontrolled circulation of hate speech, bigotry and incitement on social networks provided food for thought for some bright, but vicious about using those networks to meddle in national elections campaigns, to make “fake news” and to manipulate public opinion. These and other versions of special operations on internet and social networks represent a new, digital form of information warfare and are used by states against other states. In an attempt to defend themselves in this digital jungle, social networks are trying to develop better prevention policies. Facebook opens centers of moderation, outside United States (one such center works in Barcelona) with help of experts who know foreign languages and are aware of local cultural specifics which enables them to decipher complex social and political realities. But in the world of 196 states (and counting), hundreds of languages, of growing complexity and diversity, of conflicting interests and contradictory definitions of freedom and rights, how many moderation centers will they need to open? And even then – how to moderate two billion Facebook users?


“There is no great thing that would not be surmounted by a still greater thing.”

One of my favorite Russian poets, Kozma Prutkov (who was, in fact, a fictional author), known for his satiric aphorisms and nonsensical expressions, said : “Nobody will embrace the unembraceable”. Social networks should become more modest about their ability to serve as a global platform for creating communities; and they should be more thoughtful about their social responsibility, when they act de-facto as media channel. I believe, If they won’t adapt themselves, they will be simply forced by governments to do so.

But governments, and states in general, should understand that this coercion will not help fix the problems of social media. At the end of the day, social networks are platforms where modern societies function. Social life is happening today also on social networks, more and more each day, and this is irreversible. Social networks of today will disappear in the future, only letting way for new networks to take their place. Therefore, coercion and restrictions won’t solve the problem of social media.

This will also not solve another crisis, which is even more important: the crisis of democracy and government in the digital age, where social media plays such a central role. The governments should reinvent themselves in order to stay legitimate in the eyes of their citizens, which means they should better serve them. The modern technologies, including social media technologies, provide tools to increase efficiency of governments. I believe governments should create national public social networks. They will allow citizens interaction between themselves and their government, where they are not manipulated by anonymous players and secret influence operations. This network will not be for profit, but only for the benefit of its users. Information about them will not be sold to other companies. Users will be protected against hatred and violence. Governments will be able to address the needs and concerns of citizen through interacting with them on this network; and governments will also be responsible for protecting the freedom of expression and a proper functioning of the network, through public institution and other instruments under public supervision.

The model of this network should be elaborated in more details, but it’s clear to me that this is the future of any government if it is determined to solve a crisis of its legitimacy and governance. Recognition of this reality is imminent, and, of course, better sooner than later. Social media is a good idea, but with crisis of private social networks we should take this idea to a completely new level. As Kozma Prutkov said, “There is no great thing that would not be surmounted by a still greater thing.”

_____________________________________________

This article is available in French here: Europe-Israel news


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Digital Diplomacy Revisited: Why Ministries of Foreign Affairs hit the “digital” glass ceiling and how to break through it


A few days ago I re-watched a video that I was using extensively in my presentations 8-9 years ago to promote the concept of digital diplomacy. The name of the video was “Is social media a fad?” Apparently, since 2009, when this video was produced for the first time, the updated versions of it, under the same title, were produced almost every year. When you watch those videos, the bottom line is obvious: social media is not a fad. It is a new way of communication, much more now  than in 2009 (even though some of the social networks have proven to be a fad). 



But is digital diplomacy a fad? When I asked this same question on this blog 8 years ago, rather rhetorically, I truly believed it was not. Today I think I should correct my opinion, and here is why.

Diplomatic outreach on social networks: numbers that show nothing?

Digital diplomacy came into existence about 10 years ago with the invention of social networks and appearance of a small group of diplomats that wanted to introduce them into diplomacy. This innovative effort has got different fancy names, among them Diplomacy 2.0, ediplomacy, digital diplomacy, and that all sounded like a promise of a better diplomacy, of a new way of conducting international relations and reaching out to new audiences. Back then, in 2008, I was one of those enthusiasts who tried to introduce this concept and encourage diplomats to adapt to a new – digital - world. After returning from a post in California where I had my first experiences with Facebook and My Space, I believed that the social media will open new opportunities for diplomats and at the same time will revolutionize diplomacy itself. Well, whenever you try to revolutionize something, you shouldn’t be surprised that the first reactions to your ideas will be somewhere in the range between skepticism and mockery. Some of my colleagues-diplomats look at the digital diplomacy as a kind of a game that has nothing to do with diplomacy. Since then many of them have changed their view. What was even of greater significance, Ministries of Foreign Affairs of so many countries embraced digital diplomacy in their work. And yet, 10 years into digital diplomacy “revolution”, it’s my turn to express some skepticism about Diplomacy 2.0 and its unfulfilled promise.

To be absolutely frank, my first self-reflection was that this attitude of mine could be one of the first signs of my aging… But when I started to make a research on current status of digital diplomacy, I realized I was not alone in this growing skepticism and the understanding that something went wrong between diplomacy and social media. In fact, this concern is shared by many practitioners and researchers of digital diplomacy. Look, for just one example, what wrote in February Ilan Manor, one of the more prominent researchers of digital diplomacy:

Last week, when participating in a digital diplomacy conference, I felt as if I had encountered the Battered Bastards of social media. The conference, which was organized by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, brought together diplomats and academics from numerous countries. Over the course of two days, the participating diplomats repeatedly expressed their frustration and disillusionment with social media and its possible utilization in diplomatic activities. Understaffed, ill-equipped and facing growing expectations, these diplomats are still active on social media yet without any strategy in mind. They are online simply because one has to be online, they post because everyone else is posting and they are communicating with that familiar, yet unknown entity called “the public”. - https://digdipblog.com/, February 8, 2018

From personal experience I know that if feels really good to use statistics about Facebook page or Twitter handle, especially when it comes to reporting to the headquarters. I know how exciting it is to see one of your posts or tweets going viral. The networks themselves are going out of their way to provide you with accessible statistics about the “influence” of your accounts, how many likes, interactions, impressions you did on this post and on that picture. All those impressions look indeed very impressive. But after 10 years of tweeting, “facebooking” and “instagraming”, how much diplomatic goals where really achieved thanks to digital diplomacy? What are the new audiences that were successfully reached out through social networks and did you succeed to change their attitudes towards the country you represent?  Did you really improve international reputation of your country or its perception in the world with the help of your digital diplomacy projects? And you know what - what about the minimalistic goal of all – were you better-equipped and successful at least in informing the foreign public about your country’s policies using social media presence? On all these accounts, digital diplomacy will get a “Fail” grade, with minor exceptions here and there.

Beyond this shared feeling – which is so different from the excitement and enthusiasm of the first years of digital diplomacy – there are real concerns, behind the numbers and statistics.  It is important to say that these concerns are coming primarily from diplomats and ministries that were the first-comers into the field and who, till today, uphold the leadership positions in the digital diplomacy world: US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Holland, to name a few. While they are happy to report about growing numbers of the social media accounts of their embassies and consulates there is also an understanding that these numbers are not representing much. (For more explanation on problems with Facebook and Twitter metrics read here: https://www.americansecurityproject.org/ASP%20Reports/Ref%200112%20-%20Challenges%20of%20the%20Internet%20and%20Social%20Media%20in%20PD.pdf). The metrics can show you some general trend about your audiences, but they don’t measure your real influence with them.

Why this does not work?

If you ask any diplomat today what digital diplomacy means in practical terms he or she will tell you this: we should have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and Instagram profile (and the more advanced will add also LinkedIn), and we should post as much as we can and of course keep in mind that we should “target” the right audiences. (It is interesting to analyze why we are using a word from military jargon in this context, but maybe in another article). To sum up this attitude – foreign ministries use 3 to 4 major social networks as a principal and, in most of the cases, the only tool of their digital diplomacy. Is it the essence of the digital diplomacy, really?

We tend to forget that private social networks, such as Facebook, were created for social interaction between people, not governments, some of them for more business-like communication, most of them – for amusement. They suggested a new mode of communication, and gradually started to replace traditional media as a source of information. But as private enterprises they needed a successful business model that will allow them to make money. So, they wanted everybody to enjoy free platform for communication, amusement and information, while providing other businesses with information about us as potential customers for businesses. Governments, that were not the primary targets for the networks expansion, created their own profiles, both institutional and individual, and discovered multiple advantages in their presence on the networks.

With this understanding, suddenly, foreign ministries have fallen in love with digital diplomacy. Opening account on Facebook or Twitter is so easy and - free of charge! Every embassy, consulate, ambassador, every diplomat and international agency should open it! And of course, Instagram – the more the merrier! Some foreign ministries, like in UK, even encouraged their ambassadors to write blogs, which is a much more complex and sophisticated operation than managing FB or Twitter account. And the fact is that this symbiosis between diplomacy and major social networks is coming to its full realization. This is so much so that in the near future we can envisage in some foreign ministries establishment of Facebook departments, Twitter bureaus, or offices for Instagram affairs. After all, governments are bureaucracies that need to institutionalize their own activities. As a result, digital diplomacy is preoccupied today with expanding audience and influence on existing networks, using tools provided by those networks and within the rules set by the networks; therefore, the emphasis is on sustaining presence, on writing more attractive posts or tweets, on streaming more live videos, and on trying to decipher the ever-changing and elusive algorithms of the networks.

The current model of digital diplomacy, namely using major social networks, isn’t working and here is why:
First, the factor of freshness and innovation was important when all this started. Foreign ministries and embassies who were the first to open its pages benefit today from greater numbers of followers and general attention, more than those who joined the club later. Today, the effect of opening new diplomatic page for consulate or embassy will be relatively insignificant among millions of accounts and billions of posts and tweets.

Second, and more important factor was that over the years the governments and foreign ministries began to realize that this new mode of communication was not only about strengthening democratization, expanding transparency, improving public services, about branding and reaching out to new audiences. It was also about hate language and obscenity, about security concerns and threats, about social protests and violence, about reputational blows on the international arena, and lately about fake news and meddling in elections. The major social networks became platforms for spreading false information and are struggling to find mechanisms to deal with defamation, radicalization, hate language, Holocaust denial and recruitment of terrorists. There is no doubt, the major networks’ image and reliability is compromised on too many levels, and, according to my assessment, we are just in the beginning of this process, not in its end.

Third point: social networks encourage a simplistic, superficial and emotional engagement that is beneficial to celebrities, provocateurs and politicians, but is detrimental to diplomats or any other kind of expert community. Diplomats will never be able to outwit on social media those people or groups whose language is not limited by norms and national interests, unless diplomacy will compromise its own goals.

And last point: in the current model of digital diplomacy there is a hidden assumption that the major social networks of today are eternal entities. Do you really think they are here forever? If so, see all those networks that have disappeared in the last ten years. Fashions change, trends reverse: social media is here to stay, but social networks will fade away and give way to new ones. Look for example for a generational change that is taking place today: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/01/facebook-teens-leaving-instagram-snapchat-study-user-numbers.

Before we move to the next chapter, I want to make it clear: I am not against the presence of foreign ministries on Facebook or Twitter and I  don’t even want to say anything bad about social networks (I mean, I could, but not now), I just want to say, very diplomatically, that governments in general, and diplomacy in particular, simply cannot limit their embrace of the social media to the major social networks. Their capability to have an impact there is decreasing, and what is even more troublesome in my eyes -  this pursuit after a better tweet and a “cooler” post will have grave consequences and could compromise status of diplomacy as a profession. If we agree about this common denominator between us, let’s have a discussion about new models for digital diplomacy.

Looking through the "digital" glass ceiling

For the reasons stated above, ministries of foreign affairs should carefully revisit their vision of digital diplomacy and its implementation. They should keep their presence there, but not dedicate its dwindling budgets and all of its digital work to the major networks. They should rethink how goals of public diplomacy could be achieved on the existing platforms, and at the same time to think how they could bypass these platforms and bring the digital diplomacy to a broader digitalization, or as Matthew Wallin hinted in his article:

“It may prove that a government’s best use of social media might not be to instigate or create, but rather to guide, facilitate and moderate. While a government may often be unable to generate viral content in a manner consistent with its principles, it can still use its influence to help steer conversation, and it can still help provide the tools or forums that allow conversation to happen.” (https://www.americansecurityproject.org/ASP%20Reports/Ref%200112%20-%20Challenges%20of%20the%20Internet%20and%20Social%20Media%20in%20PD.pdf)

What should be done to increase effectiveness of digital diplomacy?

First, foreign ministries should not use their accounts as bulletin boards while avoiding conversations with the audiences they want to engage (“Australian digital diplomacy developments 2016”, by Danielle Cave). When you look for new audiences you don’t bombard them with your messages. Rather you start listening and respond to their concerns. However, as I already explained, to do so on major social networks is becoming more challenging.

Second, think outside the American networks. Go to WeiBo or VKontakte, but don’t forget you have to be fluent in these languages. Also, search for niche social networks, less-commercialized, more community-oriented. Heard about Diaspora or Letterboxd? Check them out. As PCMag puts it, “The future is in drilling down into niche social networks… Instead of sites that are all things for all people, these networks are happily staying small and serving only the folks who want to be there.” (https://www.pcmag.com/feature/353300/9-niche-social-networks-to-use-instead-of-facebook)

And finally, here is my central suggestion: Ministries of foreign affairs should create their own social networks -  platforms for supporters of their countries around the world. I think all of us will be surprised how much support countries can get from the international audience. Many countries have big diasporas worldwide and this phenomenon keeps growing. This is but one major group of potential supporters for your country, many others you will be able to discover when engaging them through social network dedicated to your country.

Today, all countries are competing for better reputation internationally to attract investments and tourism, but also to explain their policies and positions. Private social networks are not making it easier to implement these goals, quite the opposite. So, instead of working only on major networks that became too monstrously big, attract both supporters and detractors, and above all, set their rules, countries can establish virtual platforms on the international scale, on its own terms, allowing engagement and raising support for their policies.

The advantages of these networks are obvious, but the opposition to this idea, of course, will be enormous. Some people will say that the governments cannot allow a free dialogue about their own policies, without being suspected of greater surveillance. I beg to differ. The networks of today are already a kind of a Big Brother.  Setting up some norms and rules will not damage but rather help prevent inappropriate behavior that became so common on existing networks. How can you trust the information on the networks that became the very tools of “fake news” and manipulation? On the other hand, democratic governments should put to test their ability to engage public in a transparent and democratic way if we want to preserve the principles of democracy in the age of social media.

By the way, there is nothing new about niche social networks developed for or by public sector. Ten years ago, Govloop and Ozloop were the first great examples of how public employees can engage socially and professionally through the social media platform. Inspired by them I tried to create the social network of the Israeli public sector (what was good 10 years ago still makes sense - Workplace social network platform, that was developed by Facebook, by the way, is now being used by the ministry of social welfare in Israel). Back in 2010 I even had an idea of creating a social network “My Israel” in several foreign languages, having the same model in mind, but I just did not have time to dedicate myself to this project on my own.

This post is already too long, so let me conclude it: I don’t think every ministry of foreign affairs would or could launch international social network, even though technologies are already at hand and the time is ripe. Why? Because such a move will entail a deeper institutional reorganization, which of course will require courage and vision. However, given a slippery road towards superficiality paved by social networks, more courageous and sophisticated digitalization of the foreign ministries could be one of the ways to overcome the ongoing crisis of modern diplomacy.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What this blog is about

All predictions about the "end of history" or a gradual withering away of the  state so far proved to be wrong. International affairs are there to stay in a foreseeable future. The relations between the states are still crucial for the future of each one of us and all of humankind.

But the ways the states interact have changed. Classic diplomacy is no longer able to satisfy the needs of the states and promote their interests. The impact of international organizations, sub-state players, corporations and even individuals is growing and challenging the whole system of international relations. One of the major reasons behind this change is a mix of technology and a new form of mass media which we call social media.

The last 19 years I was a practitioner of international relations, being a member of the Israel's foreign service and working in Moscow, Los Angeles, Paris and Washington. From the beginning of my diplomtic career I paid a special attention to Internet. At my first assignment in Moscow, between 2000-2003,  as a spokesperson I was working not only with traditional media, but dedicated a lot of time to internet news sites and participated at the internet press-conferences.  One of my best interviews (from my point view) I gave to the website jewish.ru: unlike newspaper, on the website the physical place is not limited and I could answer all the questions without any concern for space (http://jewish.ru/ru/events/israel/181311/).

But invention of social networks was even bigger game changer, even though at that time  it was not so obvious. I consider myself an early adapter and enthusiast of Diplomacy 2.0: I initiated a training program on digital diplomacy that became mandatory for all diplomats within the Israeli Foreign Service, was strongly involved in international initiatives promoting Digital Government like Govloop.com, and was invited to speak at the O’Reilly GOV 2.0 online conference.

In this blog, that I originally created at 2009, I continue to analyze and discuss international relations, central topics of the global diplomatic agenda and the impact of social media on it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On quasi-periodic crystals and self-confidence


Last week I had an opportunity to learn about the Quasi-periodic crystals. I am sure that like most of you, these words do not mean much, even if you check its definition on Wikipedia. It was the same for me, till last Friday. On that day I was at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris, where I heard the explanation by a person who discovered quasi-crystals – Professor Dan Shechtman from Technion. Even this complicated question could be explained I very simple terms, even I could understand it (Ihope!) But it took to professor Shectman about 10 years to convince the academic community that his discovery was real. And 20 more years to get the Nobel Prize in November 2011…

Professor Shechtman at the Maison de la Chimie

What he discovered in 1982 was that the not all crystals are periodic, meaning that their atoms are ordered in a periodic structure. The community of crystallographers refused to accept his finding that would hatter the scientific “truth” that was hold for 70 years. The explanations of Prof. Shectman were crystal clear, not quasi-clear. However, the most prominent experts preferred for many years to reject his discovery, blaming him for quasi-science. While he was trying for years explain that his discovery was made possible thanks to the new tool he used in his work: electro-magnetic microscope instead of X-rays.

At the end of his lecture at Maison de la Chimie, he shared his own conclusion about the 5 most important things that made possible his discovery: electro-magnetic microscope, professionalism, tenacity, self-confidence and courage.

And I just thought to myself that with the exception of microscope, the four other elements are required in any endeavor…

Needless to say, I was proud to have this picture...

And one last word about Technion, who celebrates 100 years since its establishment in 1912 – Shectman’s Nobel Prize was third for Technion, in the last 7 year. In Technion, they definitely may have something to teach us about tenacity, professionalism and self-confidence!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Digital diplomacy in Paris – workshop and panel


Bernard Valero, Spokesperson
French Foreign Ministry

Last week the embassy of Israel in Paris, France, hosted an international workshop on the digital diplomacy. It was first such experience for us in the Israeli embassy, but what I learnt from our guests during the workshop was that it was also the case for many of them. While diplomats discuss this topic with their counterparts occasionally, the idea of workshop was to create the platform of professional discussion and exchange between diplomats, web-specialists, journalists and bloggers.


Richard Volodarski
web-agency Linkeo
Since I came to Paris year and half ago, I contacted many of my counterparts, spokespeople from different embassies to learn how they use social media in their communication work in France. I discovered that while a few embassies are quite active in this field, like the US and Estonian embassies, others were hesitant, either on the personal level, or because of their headquarters’ lack of encouragement. At the same time, many diplomats expressed their interest to learn from the experience of others.
That’s how I realized there’s a potential for this workshop. My Estonian and US colleagues supported the idea and became partners in this project.



Paul Patin, Spokesperson
US embassy in France
So what did we have on February 8 in our embassy? It was an honor for to host our first speaker, Bernard Valero, the Head of the Communications’ Department and Spokesperson of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. The Quai d’Orsay is one of the most advanced ministries of Foreign Affaires in the digital diplomacy, I know this firsthand: more than 100.000 twitter followers, internet-conferences for journalists every two days, state of the art website of the Ministry…



Sigrid Kristenprun
Spokesperson, embassy of Estonia
Our second speaker was Richard Volodarski of the Linkeo web-agency. Richard shared with some insights about the social media in France and in general. How many people use social media in France? How we look after target audiences? What is the importance of digital presence for embassies? How make it successful? All these questions were discussed, and even if not answered, the participants were intrigued by some of the dilemmas and perspectives he introduced.





And this is me
After it three presentations were done by the Estonian, US and Israel embassies. We’ve learnt that the Estonian embassy is exploring Facebook, the US embassy is working also on Twitter and is especially pro-active in Youtube, and we are making inroads into the blogosphere. While we could see differences in our approaches, it was clearly the conclusion of all the speakers: we need more independence from HQ and more immediate responses if we want our embassies’ digital presence to be efficient and significant.


I believe it was first, but not the last workshop on digital diplomacy: the best way to learn is by sharing practices and methods. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Diplomacy in the age of social media - My interview to RFI


On Friday I was interviewed to the Radio France International about Digital Diplomacy. The interview is in English.Thank you to my host, Vladimir Smekhov

HomeEnjoy:
http://www.english.rfi.fr/europe/20120205-social-media-and-diplomacy
.