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March 14 2011

16:05

MIT Produces a String of Civic Media Success Stories

As we wind the way toward the end of our four year grant, I thought it would be nice to describe some of what we've learned at MIT's Center for Future Civic Media (C4). In the coming weeks, I will call on a few of our researchers to offer similar blog reflections on our unique blend of communities, information, and action.

First, though, I want to describe some of the exciting project highlights from the last few weeks. Because C4 is a multi-disciplinary institution, different projects end up affecting different audiences, so I wanted to put them all in one post.

GrassrootsMapping.org
Jeff Warren's project continues to spread, with new maps made in New York, China, and several other places by people with no MIT connection. We have so many continuing uploads from communities in the Gulf that we recently had to purchase new RAID storage. Good Magazine recently wrote about this growing project.

At MIT, we know that research was worth conducting when it spins off into a new enterprise. C4 researchers Jeff and Sara Anne Wylie have done just that, creating a new organization that tries to help communities by generating scientific information. Called the Public Laboratory of Science and Technology, it drives innovation that pushes grassroots mapping in new directions. Check their recent projects, like hacking cameras to view photosynthesis and make spectrograms to detect whether the photos that Gulf communities have been taking are really of BP's spilled oil.

grm.jpg

VoIP Drupal
VoIP Drupal, a project that research scientist Leo Burd has been working on for more than a year, was announced at DrupalCon last week. Several telephony developers have signed on to develop the VoIP side of the project, and they join famous Drupal group Civic Actions, which has been contributing on the Drupal scripting side. In brief: I'll be very surprised if "this isn't a big thing":http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2011/03/voip-drupal-kicks-off-at-drupalcon072.html.

Sourcemap
Another great project from C4 that is in the process of spinning off is Sourcemap, by Leo Bonanni and Matthew Hockenberry, which recently formed an independent governing foundation. Always popular with journalists and enviro-geeks, the project is now being taken on by businesses. One big development is that Office Depot is officially using Sourcemap on some of their product packaging.

Also, the University of Montana's School of Journalism collaborated with us over the past term by using Sourcemap as part of a class on online news. Our collaborators, Professor Lee Banville and American Public Media's Public Insight Network, wanted to connect journalism students in Banville's class with tools and technologies that construct perspectives and develop narrative frameworks for the web. In practice, this ranged from ideas on crowdsourced feedback and commentary to devices like web mapping that drive new presentations of stories.

BrownBagToolkit / Junkyard Jumbotron
The first part of research scientist Rick Borovoy's project on face-to-face information sharing has launched, and was immediately picked up by BoingBoing and Gizmodo. Check out this video explainer:

Junkyard Jumbotron from chris csik on Vimeo.

extrACT:
In mid-November, we launched the third stage of our extrACT project, WellWatch. A dozen communities in PA and NY have expressed interest in the system, so we are conducting a one-week training tour across the state in March.
wellwatchCollage.jpg

Between the Bars
The world's first blogging system for the incarcerated, who aren't allowed access to the Internet, attracted 400 prisoner users from 18 states before we had to suspend service (for reasons best explained later). Inventor Charles DeTar is now on a clear path to relaunch the system in the next few of weeks.

Cronicas de Heroes
Alyssa Wright created Hero Reports for NY, as an alternative to the City's "see something, say something" campaign. Making citizens suspicious of each other is not the first step toward creating a safer, more civic city. Last December we launched a Juarez version of the project called Cronicas de Heroes, which continues to bustle. Over 700 heroes have been acknowledged, and the press continues to make up for lost good news from a city that usually only gets attention when something bad is happening.

cronicasNewSmall.jpg

Alyssa and Yesica Guerra, who directed the Juarez implementation, were invited to and presented at TEDActive, the global do-gooder wing of the famous TED conference. New communities are asking to run Hero Reports, from Monterrey to South Wood County, Wisconsin. Just last week the project was cloned in Kazakhstan without any help from us!

As you can see, things can get pretty busy here at C4. Several other projects are in the works and should be launched in the next few months. Stay tuned to Idea Lab for updates.

March 13 2011

19:49

Lost in Boston: REALTIME

For the last several months, we have been testing a system called Lost in Boston: REALTIME with a variety of community partners. This video describes a bit about the project.

Rick Borovoy loves Boston, but he hates how hard it is to figure out where one is. Boston is tough to navigate, and while our various government entities do their best to keep up, governments are better at long-term infrastructure than quickly updating signage in a fast-moving, dynamic city. So Rick started looking at how businesses could help. He proposed hosting real-time transit signs in local businesses and non-profits. By hosting the signs on private space, the signs can cost 100 times less, and also help their host's mission. We have signs running in the famous J.P. Licks ice cream emporium, Anna's Taqueria, and Hope House, a local halfway house.

As mentioned in the video, we use information that MASSDoT has made available. Sure, we could have done an iPhone app, but many bus riders don't have smart phones, and text-based systems tend to be pretty inconvenient. More importantly, at the Center we talk about the "bottled water effect." Contemporary technology is almost always designed for the individual -- it is almost a reflex -- when in fact it might be better to design for the public. After all, we love Boston's public transportation system; it is extensive, convenient, and still pretty inexpensive. Why should navigating that system be any less public?
More information at http://www.lostinboston.org/
17:55

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

21:34

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

19:22

Drupal Now Accessible Via Mobile Phone

voip_drupal.png

MIT's Center for Future Civic Media has done a variety of breakthrough civic systems with phones. Examples range from Leo Burd's What's Up platform to the Call4Action class and its cool student projects.

We at C4 love these projects, but working with phones has always been a bear. A lot of programming is necessary. In many cases, people start with the phone and end up building custom infrastructure that begin to represent an actual content management system. 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 the Drupal CMS 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 voice over Internet protocol Drupal platform at DrupalCon next week.

Here's what Leo wrote about this exciting project:

VoIP Drupal is an innovative framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites.

VoIP Drupal can be used to build hybrid applications that combine regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways, including:

* Click-to-call functions
* Voice- and SMS-based Go Out to Vote campaigns
* 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 lines
* Phone-based community surveys
* PTA reminders
* Story recording / playback
* Group voicemail
* Geo-based callblasts aimed at specific streets or locations
* And much more!

In technical terms, 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 C4, with major contributions from Civic Actions.

19:22

VoIP Drupal

voip_drupal.png

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.

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