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April 08 2013

11:46

March 25 2013

11:00

How One Student Went Mobile-Only for a Day on Campus

Recently, Reese News Lab students have conducted experiments in living without a smartphone and social media.

NYT ipad.jpg

But because the lab is working on a project on producing media for mobile devices, I thought it was time that someone tried a computer blackout. I'd give up my laptop for a day, navigating the UNC campus with just an iPhone and an iPad (with a Bluetooth keyboard). I figured that way, I could find out how mobile-friendly the world really is.

Before I could attempt this task, though, I knew I had to plan carefully. I had to make sure it wouldn't interfere with my schoolwork, and I tried to account for as many problems as I could beforehand.

I knew I would be unable to print because UNC's printing program requires you to install specific hardware. I also would lose access to a good word-processing program. So I added all the documents I needed to my Google Drive and converted them into PDFs. I also knew I'd lose access to Spotify, so I downloaded MixerBox, which makes playlists of YouTube videos. Set with my arsenal of solutions, I felt confident that this day would be relatively easy, but I quickly discovered that you can't account for everything.

A mobile-only day begins

When I awoke on the day of my experiment, I was pleased to have no trouble going through my routine of checking emails and Twitter. All of the mobile sites I encountered were effective and easy to navigate. But my positivity about the day was soon shattered by the first text I received: a free Redbox code. I don't have a TV in my room, so without my laptop, a disc was useless. This was the first omen that Netflix would be my saving grace later.

With a sense of dread, I embarked on the rest of my day. I immediately noticed how much lighter my backpack was without a laptop, so at least there was one perk. In class, I was already used to doing the reading on my iPad. It was after class that I ran into trouble.

Help! No tabs!

Sticking to my Thursday routine, I headed to the Reese News Lab. However, I realized that doing any kind of research was going to be hard. When I am on a computer, I love using tabs and multiple windows. I can read something in my browser and take notes on it in a Word document. As I write this, I have open six Word documents, Spotify, an Excel spreadsheet and four windows in Google Chrome (31 tabs) open. And yes, those numbers were higher until I was embarrassed by how much I had open and decided to close a few.

In the lab, I decided to scroll through Twitter and Facebook to find the latest news. As I tapped through articles, though, I realized how much I missed the tab and find features. Links in both of these apps opened a new page within the app. However, these pages were slow and harder to navigate. Multimedia components from places like the Wall Street Journal were especially troublesome as I tried to navigate their normally mobile-friendly site within these other apps. Also, I couldn't just search for keywords on any page. Rather, I had to search for terms line-by-line.

Frustrated, I decided that I just wanted a break and opted to try the USA Today crossword, but I hit another road block. I couldn't access it on my Safari app: USA Today requires mobile users to purchase its crossword app. I'm a college student, so thanks, but no thanks.

All eyes on screens

I headed to the Student Union. Although I saw plenty of people I knew there, they all were engrossed by whatever was on their computer screens. The screen blocked them from social interactions.

I headed back to my room around 5 p.m. to charge my phone, which was already in the red. I turned on Netflix, but I quickly got antsy. I needed something else to do simultaneously so that I wasn't just mindlessly watching a TV show. I couldn't do any work on my iPad while I had Netflix running, so I resorted to cleaning. This lasted for an hour or so until I decided I just needed to get out and go to dinner.

But the problem wasn't over. After dinner, I started to try to teach myself HTML/CSS with Codecademy. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to attempt a few more courses, but in a rather ironic turn of events, I found the site was not mobile-friendly. All of the site's features worked on my iPad, but it was not easy to navigate and use. Even with my keyboard, which hides the onscreen keyboard, the site responded by zooming in too much. Sure, most people aren't coding from mobile devices now, but why can't we?

After facing yet another disappointment, I spent the rest of the night using my iPad to watch Netflix and my phone as a second screen, where I could read articles and play games,. But I still never found an adequate solution. I couldn't even clean out my inbox from my phone easily, as the mail app tries to archive messages rather than delete them. I opted to go to bed early knowing that as soon as I woke up Friday, I could have my laptop back.

Lessons learned

So what did I learn?

  1. It's expensive to use only mobile devices. While content is often free for desktop users, mobile users are forced to buy apps to access the same content.
  2. Mobile devices make multitasking harder.
  3. We miss social interactions and are less observant hiding behind computer screens.
  4. We can still perform most of our daily routines on mobile devices. In fact, most of the sites we interact with have a mobile-friendly version.

And when I finally did check my laptop, I found I hadn't really missed anything. Sure, I was unable to get ahead on my work, but I had still been connected to the rest of the world. So could I learn to survive without a laptop? Absolutely. Do I want to try it? Not in the slightest.

Lincoln Pennington is a freshman in the journalism school at UNC Chapel Hill with a second major in political science. He works as a staffer for reesenews.org and tweets from @Lincoln_Ross. He is a politics junkie interested in the future of the media and hopes to work in D.C. upon graduation in 2016.

This story originally appeared on Reese News Lab.

reeselablogo.jpgReese News Lab is an experimental news and research project based at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The lab was established in 2010 with a gift from the estate of journalism school alum Reese Felts. Our mission is to push past the boundaries of media today, refine best practices and embrace the risks of experimentation. We do this through: collaborating with researchers, students, the public and industry partners; producing tested, academically grounded insights for media professionals; and providing engaging content. We pursue projects that enable us to create engaging content and to answer research questions about the digital media environment. All of our projects are programmed, designed, reported, packaged and edited by a staff of undergraduate and graduate students.

August 07 2012

14:00

Tired of Text Spam and Dropped Cell Phone Calls? You're Not Alone

Think you're the only one ready to throw your cell phone out the window the next time you have a dropped call or text spam? You're not alone, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The survey found that cell phone problems are a common reality for the 280 million users in the United States.

The report identified four major cell phone problems: 72 percent of all cell users experience dropped calls, 68 percent of all cell users receive unwanted sales or marketing calls, 69 percent of text messaging users in the U.S. receive unwanted spam or text messages, and 77 percent of those who use Internet on their cell phones experience slower than desirable download speeds.

call_02.jpg

The report also surveyed the frequency of all four mobile phone problems as experienced by smartphone owners. And in all four cases, smartphone owners reported higher incident rates. The largest margins are in spam and unwanted texts -- 29 percent of smartphone owners compared with 20 percent of other cell owners -- and slow download speeds -- 49 percent of smartphone owners compared with 31 percent of other cell owners.

Limited Solutions to Block Spammers

There are several ways people may attempt to remove cell phone nuisances from their daily lives. Step one is to contact your mobile carrier and request the available spam-blocking services.

University of New Hampshire student Feier Liu uses a non-smartphone and first called her mobile carrier to block a spam number about three years ago. The service was free, but only blocks individual numbers. Liu said she hasn't received a spam call since. She is certainly a lucky one.

Another service introduced back in March also counts on mobile users to vigilantly report spam text messages. North American mobile carriers have adopted a centralized spam-reporting service, which collects spam complaints into a shared database to help carriers identify and stop spammers. In practice, users forward spam texts to the shortcode 7726 (or SPAM), prompting the carrier to request the spam number.

call_01.jpg

Allin Resposo, a web designer and smartphone user, has been reporting every spam text to 7726 since the service was introduced. Resposo hasn't seen an obvious decrease in spam and said that the spam texts are never from the same number.

While smartphones experience more problems, they paradoxically enable more possible solutions. A search for "block spam" on Google Play brings up dozens of apps created to block spam calls and texts. Most of these apps have ratings of four stars or more and could be worthwhile efforts for Android users. However, because of Apple's restrictions on developers, similar apps are not available for the iPhone, which, according to a prior Pew report, is used by some 53 million people in the U.S.

Finding Digital Authenticity

The Pew report stated, "It is against the law in the U.S. to place unsolicited commercial calls to a mobile phone when the call is made by using an automated random-digit dialing generator or if the caller uses a pre-recorded message." Yet spam phone calls, like those offering free cruises to the Bahamas with a pre-recorded "[fog horn] This is your captain speaking" are as real as ever. Clearly, spammers are evolving faster than legislation.

In fact, they may be piggybacking on our mobile dependence. The report also noted that non-white cell owners experience all four of the common cell phone problems at higher weekly rates than white cell owners, possibly due to the fact that "African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to rely on their cell phones as their primary or exclusive phones for calling and for Internet access."

Does all this indicate that more mobile usage equals more problems?

In a world where there are 14 million spam accounts on Facebook and probably similarly disturbing figures on other social networks, it's not hard to imagine that spammers on these mobile-enabled networks will find a way to spam our mobile devices.

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 27 2012

15:35

Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a treat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.


June 11 2011

05:02

68pc of smartphone and tablet owners use them while watching TV

ClickZ :: Agencies and advertisers are becoming increasingly intrigued by the relationship between users' consumption of TV content, and their use of mobile connected devices. According to new research by The Nielsen Company, that link is a strong one, and over 68 percent of tablet and smartphone owners report using them in front of their televisions.

Continue to read Jack Marshall, www.clickz.com

May 28 2011

19:44

Mobile user participation in social networks: Wireless Ink wins lawsuit against Google and Facebook

ReadWriteWeb :: Wireless Ink Corp has won the first round of a patent lawsuit against both Google and Facebook. The search and social companies failed to get Wireless Ink's infringement tossed and now Wireless Ink can pursue charges pertaining to user participation in social networks on mobile devices against Google and Facebook. - Given the amount of users that access Facebook through their smartphones, it will likely be Facebook that is affected more by the Winksite claims than Google, considering that Google Buzz adoption remains low.

Continue to read Dan Rowinski, www.readwriteweb.com

May 18 2011

19:00

Video: Civic Media Session, "Civic Disobedience"

(For great detail about the "Civic Disobedience" session, check out moderator Ethan Zuckerman's write-up.)

Download!

Watch the full video...

read more

March 13 2011

18:03

VoIP Drupal Kicks Off at Drupalcon

Last week I wrote about another project that's come to a boil at the Center for Future Civic Media: VoIP Drupal.

Here is a brief video of Leo Burd lecturing at DrupalCon 2011 on the release of Voip Drupal, a plugin that allow full interaction between Drupal CMS and phones.



VoIP Drupal is a project of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, with key contributions from Civic Actions.

March 12 2011

21:02

Junkyard Jumbotron

Rick Borovoy just released the Junkyard Jumbotron project, which allows laptops or phones in close proximity to be ganged together to form a large display.

The Junkyard Jumbotron requires no special software; it is simply a web page that receives real-time updates from our server, allowing scrolling, zooming, and soon video. Like all software at the Center, it is free and open.

Rick developed the project as part of a larger suite of tools that he calls the Brown Bag Toolkit, all oriented around making technology work better with face-to-face interactions, like meetings, canvasing, or chance encounters.

Huge thanks to Paula Aguilera for making the video.

March 04 2011

19:01

Voip Drupal

C4 has done a variety of breakthrough civic systems with phones, from Leo Burd's What's Up platform to the Call4Action class and its cool student projects.

We love these projects, but working with phones has always been a bear. A lot of custom programming is necessary, and in many cases people start with the phone and end up building custom systems that begin to represent a CMS. Projects like Ushahidi or our earlier txtMob are really just simple CMSs with a few custom features for texting inputs. So Leo Burd has been working on making Drupal more friendly for the billions of people around the world who only have access to basic telephony rather than smart phones and the web.

Leo is launching the first release of the VoIP Drupal platform at DrupalCon next week.

VoIP Drupal is an innovative framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. It can be used to build hybrid applications combining regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways, including:

* Voice- and SMS-based Get Out The Vote campaigns
* 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 lines (information hotlines)
* Phone-based community surveys
* PTA or any meeting reminder calls
* Story recording / playback
* Group voicemail
* Geo-based call-blasts aimed at specific streets or locations
* And much more!

As Leo writes:

Technically speaking, the goal of VoIP Drupal is to provide a common API and scripting system that interoperate with popular Internet-telephony servers (Asterisk, FreeSwitch, Tropo, Twilio, etc) dramatically reducing the learning and development costs associated with the construction of communication systems that combine voice and text technologies together.

The following VoIP servers are currently supported:

* Tropo, through the voiptropo.module (available soon)
* Twilio, through the voiptwilio.module

This project is under continuous development. If you would like to get involved in the project, or ask questions discussion is taking place on the VoIP Drupal Group. You can find more information in the VoIP Drupal Handbook.

The VoIP Drupal platform has originally been conceived and implemented by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, with major contributions from Civic Actions.

February 22 2011

14:02

Civic Media Session Explores Data in Cities

(Cross-posted at MediaShift Idea Lab)

With a redoubled focus on the community in the civic media community, the Center for Future Civic Media has launched a new speaker series. These relaxed, informal conversations about civic media featured ground-level practitioners, activists, hackers, and local leaders.

The first session, "Bustling with Information: Cities, Code, and Civics," brought good friends Nick Grossman, Nigel Jacob, and Max Ogden to our Cambridge campus. As you can see from the video clips below, these sessions are unique opportunities to talk about the amazing work that goes on in this sphere, intriguingly out of earshot of the debates on the future of journalism.

We think this is a great niche for us: Highlighting the do-it-yourself ethic that's always existed in civic media (not to mention at MIT), separate from concerns about paper vs. iPad, MBA-honed business models, etc. Sessions planned for this spring include discussions of intellectual property collaboration, the implications of check-in/location-sharing technology, how local stories spread worldwide, civic media for vulnerable populations, and civic disobedience.

So stay tuned to Idea Lab and civic.mit.edu for updates and scheduling information.

Meanwhile, check out these clips from last week's civic media session, moderated by Center director Chris Csikszentmihályi, for a taste. And, in the comment section below, let us know what other civic media topics warrant more exploration.


MIT Tech TV
Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.


MIT Tech TV
Max Ogden of Code for America discusses taking "treasure troves" of government data sets to bring citizens and friends together, describing it as "enhanced serendipity."

December 01 2010

17:56

Huge video leak of 2009 Moldovan protests and state violence

[View one of the videos.]

In April 2009, following an election widely viewed as rigged, protests erupted in Moldova.

But closed-circuit video footage of the protests and subsequent violence has been leaked, and the Center for Future Civic Media was approached by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism to make available those 16 hours of footage, now available at dickgregoryforpresident.com.

President Vladimir Voronin and the communist regime reacted violently to the protests, suspending the constitution starting with that night. The results: at least three dead youth, almost one thousand young people illegally arrested and tortured, over one thousand days of arrests issued, a president and prime-minister threatening to shoot the protesters and ordering the sequestration of students in schools.



[...]

More than a year and a half after, nobody knows the names of people responsible for the abuses committed during those days.

The site the Center put together allows users to code video content, such as the license plate of an unmarked secret police car...

jeep-ul care a adunat tineri din piata, se vede numarul (MAI 0699) - min 4.38 sau Set Time 278.39898681640625

...or requests for help identifying a group of men:

cine-s baietii astia, pe la min 4.30? baga 278.9989929199219 si apasa Set Time

Already we've heard of requests to use the footage in court cases alleging that state agents killed protestors. Overcoming the technical challenges of sharing such a volume video is almost reward enough, but to help hold accountable those who would misuse state power, that, in large part, is what civic media is here for.

June 25 2010

18:21

FNCM conference plenary videos now available

Please to enjoy the visual fruits of last week's Future of News and Civic Media conference plenaries. Below--available for viewing, downloading, and reusing--are the three plenary videos...

Announcement of the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners


Available for download at MIT TechTV.



"Crowd Building" with Gabriella Coleman and Karim Lakhani


Available for download at MIT TechTV.


"Data into Action" with Nick Grossman, Ellen Miller, and Laurel Ruma


Available for download at MIT TechTV.


C4FCM demo videos will be available early next week.

June 17 2010

10:58

April 08 2010

15:46

Introducing the Department of Play

[This post originally appeared on the MIT CoLab Radio blog, in Danielle Martin's Media Mindfulness column.]

The Department of Play (DoP) is a working group of researchers, developers, and community practitioners at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM) bonded by a common value: the design of new technologies and methodologies to support youth as active participants in their local urban neighborhoods.

We might glance at the teen sitting next to us on the bus with a smart-phone and think: “Wow, the digital divide is shrinking.”  My first thought goes to all the youth who don’t have access to mobile phones, who also have things to say.  But I do see the divide diminishing when I see the wide smile of a Peruvian youth playing around with a big red balloon with a makeshift camera rig he made himself, to make his own map of his favela neighborhood.

While higher broadband speeds and affordability recommended by the FCC’s recent national broadband plan should increase access to internet tools in under-served communities, we still need to consider the increased digital literacy and local facilitation necessary to use fully tap the power of these tools. While access is important, much more is needed to make sure technology can be used to empower young people.

GrassrootsMapping in Peru

read more

January 17 2010

06:07

Apps for Haiti: An SMS 911, a People Finder, and more to come.

The information activist community has been rushing to respond to the Haitian earthquake. What I find remarkable is the capacity that has been built up in the last few years; from software standards, like the "pfif":http://zesty.ca/pfif standard generated after Katrina, to early systems like the Ushahidi engine designed during the Kenyan election violence, to larger organizations and resources like the Crisis Commons wiki: and the Crisis Camps.

First on the scene were a variety of technologists who were addressing the problem of people finding -- how to bring separated people back together, both for peace of mind and for social capital. Several sites started offering this service, like the American Red Cross Family Links and the custom-made Haitianquake.com. By Friday, Google stepped in with its offering, and because of their capacity most everyone agreed to standardize around it, even though it lacked some of the functionality of other systems, and had only a few dozen people in its database (compared to Haitianquake's 6000). Similar utilities are still springing up -- the Miami Herald and the New York Times came out with their own -- but developers are lobbying these and other organizations to contain the spread. Silos will only make it more difficult for people to find each other. The tool to use is http://haiticrisis.appspot.com/. Blog it, yo.

Also just launched by Ushahidi, is an effort to create a sort of 911 for Haiti, based on SMS messages. The SMS shortcode 4636 is now live, and messages are being queued. A web interface then allows Creole speaking "dispatchers" -- from anywhere on the Internet -- to take the SMS messages off the queue to organize and tag them. The SEIU, with tens of thousands of Haitian American members, is setting up command centers in four North American cities and its members will be actively dispatching, but any Creole speaking web user can volunteer. Once the messages are coded, they will generate feed outputs that can be used by various organizations (including journalists, humanitarian relief workers, etc.). Messages are just starting to come in: no doubt the biggest problem starting Sunday will be what to do with all the data.

There is now talk of doing a similar "mechanical turk" style translation interface as well, allowing Haitian Americans to act as real-time mediators between aid workers and citizens. Voice systems are requisite in a country with %50 illiteracy, but also significantly harder to create and more computationally demanding.

A list of some of the software initiatives:
http://haiti.crisiscommons.org/atrium/home
And volunteers:
http://crisiscommons.org/wiki/index.php?title=Haiti/2010_Earthquake
And organizations:
http://haiti-orgs.sahanafoundation.org/prod/or/organisation

January 13 2010

22:25

Connect/disconnect - thoughts on the Amman Mobile Data Innovations workshop


(Above, a representative of the Iraqi government presents a concept for a mobile-phone-based child safety reporting program)

Since a few weeks have gone by, I thought I'd post some of my thoughts about the MobileActive/UNICEF workshop on Mobile Data Innovations in Amman. Several people, including JD Godchaux of NiJeL and Robert Soden of Development Seed, not to mention Josh Levinger from here at the Center for Future Civic Media have published thoughtful articles about the workshop, but I have to admit the experience remains unsettling in my mind.

First, I want to say that I very much enjoyed the talks, the opportunity to meet among experts in a variety of fields, from mobile health monitoring to community mapping, and the excellent organization and support by UNICEF and MobileActive. But I think the difficulty in collaborating with, or even communicating with, the Iraqi delegation which attended the workshop highlights some of the challenges in bridging differences in spoken lanugage (arabic/english) and especially in technological language. Conversations were nebulous; some of the Iraqis wanted to use mobile survey tools to gather information on child safety and incidences of violence against children - but it the scope of their need was hard to grasp. Did they have volunteers who would interview residents of various communities and submit results? Did they expect just anyone to learn of this system and report things of their own volition? How did they expect to verify or quantify the results?


(Techies type furiously during a brainstorming session)

These are not really technological problems, and they don't really call for technological solutions. There are a range of possible technologies out there - SMS based surveys, for example, can make distribution of a survey easier, especially if one partners with a local cell carrier. Optical character recognition and cheap cameraphones could make for faster and less error-prone data entry. But I was reminded of some meetings at the Center for Future Civic Media, where organizations were looking for a technological silver bullet to solve what are really problems in reaching out to people. Problems of a cultural or societal nature, let's say. To me, the big unanswered question is what incentivizes people to participate in projects such as this child safety one? Do they see immediate improvements in safety for their own children? If not, I don't really see many people getting involved on a voluntary basis.

These difficulties can be very discouraging for people like myself, who are trying to work with communities, who use technology to try to effect social change, and who rely on successful social interactions - and trust - to push our work forward. All I can think of is to look to projects like Paul Chan/Creative Time's project Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, a project which at first I did not really understand. Basically, Paul Chan and Nato Thompson went to the 9th Ward in New Orleans and organized a performance of Waiting for Godot, involving a wide range of community members, a local theater troupe, musicians, and others in the area. What stands out for me most, and what initially I did not understand the importance of, is that much of what the project describes is a series of potluck dinners and social gatherings - not to mention that the play itself was preceded by free gumbo and live music.

As I thought about the project more, and about how Chan eventually found someone else to direct the play, and built such a good rapport with his local collaborators on a personal basis, I feel that the real genius of the project is how Chan and Thompson essentially yielded the project to those who joined them. The project, for me, was less about the play, and more about the potluck dinners... and I hope to be able to form similarly trustful and rich relationships with participants in the upcoming Grassroots Mapping workshops here in Lima this month. Only then, it seems to me, will we be able to accomplish anything, technological or otherwise.

17:39

Haiti mobile communications status open thread

The Center is just starting to get word in, mostly from our Fellows Katrin Verclas and Ethan Zuckerman, that through some extraordinary NGO efforts, mobile communications are slowly being restored in Haiti following yesterday's earthquake outside Port-au-Prince.

From Katrin:

Prabhas [Pokharel] is writing it up. UPDATE: "Earthquake in Haiti: How you can help". Looks like satellite is up, mobile providers intermittently with Digicel most reliable from what we are hearing. Digicel is also donating $5 million. Prabhas is posting for us on all of the efforts we are aware of in the next few hours / feel free to repost that. It'll be a bit of a round-up, though.

TSF (Télécoms Sans Frontières) has deployed a team from the American base in Managua for support in emergency telecoms. They are carrying satellite mobile and fixed telecommunications tools. Reinforcements will also be sent from TSF's international Headquarters. In close contact with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), they are now flying to Saint-Domingue in order to rejoin Port-au-Prince as soon as possible.

More as I know it.

Ethan says that they're covering things closely at Global Voices:

Georgia Popplewell, our managing director, is coordinating coverage. She's pretty swamped now, but would likely have some insights later in the day about what needs, possible projects might be.

Georgia has assembled Tweets that went out following the quake, including the earliest reports that a hospital had collapsed. They also include some of the earliest photos of damage, such as this one uploaded by @LisandroSuero:

A master's student from MIT's Program in Art, Culture and Technology just asked:

Is there a platform for low-cost mesh networking whose nodes could be spread throughout the country? It seems like we should be able to drop hundreds of small solar-powered nodes around the country to provide a low-bandwidth communications infrastructure...

There must be someone somewhere working on a project like this...

December 04 2009

16:33

C4FCM heading to Amman for "Mobile Data Collection for Social Action" workshop

Just got word from Chris that Jeff Warren (Newsflow/Cartagen, Josh Levinger (VirtualGaza), and Nadav Aharony (Comm.unity) are headed to Amman, Jordan, for an amazing workshop hosted by UNICEF Innovation and our friends at Mobile Active.

It's called "Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action in the Middle East". Snips from the registration site:

UNICEF Innovation and MobileActive.org invite you to attend a three-day workshop on distributed and real-time data collection, monitoring, and visualization of data with mobile technology.

What is this About?

With the ubiquity of mobile technology, data collection and monitoring of key indicators from the ground up by affected populations is now possible. Mobile technology in the hands of people can now be more than a person-to-person communication medium but can be used for capturing, classifying and transmitting image, audio, location and other data, interactively or autonomously.

By involving people in defining and participating in their own data collection, this approach can address significant unmet challenges in large-scale data collection for public health and citizen participation.

In this three-day workshop, we will explore the critical issues, technologies, and architectures involved in collecting and utilizing data-from-below, bringing together the key technology and research leaders on distributed data collection and distribution in the Middle East.

What are the Goals?

  • An exploration of key issues in citizen-driven data collection in the Middle East. These include technologies, systems, architecture, tools, standards, and people, among others.
  • Kick-start a regional working group / community around open-source data collection, aggregation and visualization using mobile technology
  • Map the landscape in the Middle East of applications/technologies, developers, and key thought leaders around real-time distributed data collection, monitoring, and visualization using mobile technology?
  • Help UNICEF build a roster of potential partners, possible vendors, academic institutions of interest, and groups or individuals to advance UNICEF regional goals.
  • Prototype new products or improvements of existing products about distributed data collection.

[...]

The impetus for the workshop is UNICEF’s national-scale project in Iraq collecting data from various populations about key indicators and use that data to effect policy and programmatic changes that can improve the lives of children.

As part of this work, MobileActive.org, a global community of people using mobile technology for social impact, and UNICEF partnered to explore, with key leaders in the Middle East, critical issues on large-scale, citizen-driven and bottom-up data collection.

[...]

Why Attend?

If you are a thought leader representing academia, foundations, civil society organizations and the private sector in the Middle East exploring data collection from the ground up with mobile tehnology, we'd like you to contribute your experiences and knowledge.

If you are a a coder, hacker, or technical expert interested in this space and/or have relevant applications, systems, or prototypes for real-time data collection and analysis, we encourage you to apply!

We wish the guys and other attendees a fun trip! Stay tuned for reports back from Jeff, Josh, and Nadav, and if you are attending, drop us a line or Tweet us (@c4fcm) and let us know what you learned.

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November 23 2009

18:49

"There's no edit button!"

Center fellow Mako Hill makes a great argument today for increased focus on making Wikipedia more easily editable.

Seems counter-intuitive. Sure, Wikipedia is obviously editable. But, as Mako says in his post and in the video below, many tools being developed to support reading Wikipedia seem to forget that the essential functionality of Wikipedia is editing. That includes the new WikiReader by OpenMoko, a mobile device containing the whole of Wikipedia.

From Mako's blog:

I hope the device becomes successful but I'm worried about what success will mean for the already indefensibly large gap between the number of readers and editors on Wikipedia. After all, the ability to change and contribute is the thing that makes Wikipedia interesting, empowering, and successful; cutting this functionality out kind of misses much of the point.


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