Friday, April 06, 2012

Like Giving Birth

I have finally, as of this week, given birth to the baby I have been carrying since shortly after my arrival at post.

Get off the isn't THAT kind of baby!

No, what I have given birth to is a project that we are calling a Mobile American Corner.

The Mobile American Corner builds on the idea of a traditional American Corner in that it contains information about the United States and our diplomatic mission to share with overseas audiences. Where the Mobile American Corner differs, however is that it is an original mobile platform (designed for iPad but soon accessible via iPhone and Android) application through which the Embassy puts this kind of extensive information on the U.S. into the hands of the user along with an invitation to actually participate in the Embassy’s public diplomacy.

The Mobile American Corner is well-suited to Estonia, a tech savvy and well-wired country that gave birth to such innovations as Skype and is a world leader in e-governance. Our goal has been to broaden our reach among these internet savvy consumers by creating an interesting, interactive format that would keep users engaged for hours exploring and engaging the United States.

I can't take credit for the original idea, but I can certainly take credit for what it has become. Since shortly after my arrival, working with the text, the graphics, and the developer has consumed much of my time.

The app contains information on U.S. government, culture, geography and plus specific information about our embassy as well. It has videos like that of President George H.W. Bush restoring diplomatic relations with the Baltic countries in 1991. Embedded into the text are links which can direct the user to more information on topics ranging from Congress to the Prohibition Movement, to U.S. food and music. And one particularly cool part is that the app has a page that lays out key elements of the U.S. diplomatic agenda with Estonia and lets users comment, argue and participate in the development and execution of our public diplomacy.

We rolled out the project in two parts. First, we did a Steve Jobs-like presentation at Solaris, a local shopping mall and teen hangout. And yes, by we I mean I did one. No, you can't see the pictures.

Then we took one of the Mobile American Corners to one of the most remote corners of Estonia, to Setomaa, the lands of the Seto people. The Seto are a religious minority living on both sides of the Estonian/Russian border. Their king is charged with protecting their language and culture, and when he meets with dignitaries, he dresses in traditional clothing: a hand-made shirt with the embroidered designs of his people encircling the collar, as well as woolen pants and overcoat, all made by hand from sheep raised by his people. Over his shoulder is draped a traditional bag made of sheepskin.

We visited him on Monday as part of a two-day Ambassadorial visit to the southern part of the country, and left at the Seto cultural museum one of the Mobile American Corners. Those are his hands exploring the app in the picture. And of course, leaving the app there makes two points: one, that the app lets us reach the most remote places. And two, the app is particularly relevant in E-stonia, where inside that traditional sheepskin bag was a laptop and inside their traditional cultural center was wifi access.

We are also have a contest via our facebook page for residents of Estonia to take a picture of "A Piece of America in Estonia." From the most "liked" photos in three age categories, we will select winners to receive a new iPad with the app pre-loaded onto it. We are already seeing a dramatic increase in our number of followers. (You can follow us too...we won't mind, really).

Our goal is for this app to be available to all embassies around the globe...but wait, there is more. We also want anyone to be able to download it free. Because revolutions like the Arab Spring took place by smart phone. And when people seeking democracy want inspiration, we want them to have to look no further than the American their pocket.

There is still more to do...last minute tweeks to the app, adjustments for iphone and android...and then of course there is the July 4th party where we will present the winners of the contest with their ipads.

But that is the easy part...the birthing was the hard part...

I will say I am pretty pleased with my new Public Diplomacy baby.

1 comment:

John Brown said...