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April 13 2012

13:50

18DaysInEgypt: Crowdsourcing a Story of Revolution

In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events as they were unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt, a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt. A former video journalist with The New York Times where he contributed to innovative collaborative media projects, Mehta was awarded a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 18DaysInEgypt and currently splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt.



18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the revolution in Egypt.


In his new capacity as digital entrepreneur, Mehta explains in a Q&A why he considers 18DaysInEgypt a pioneering storytelling platform.

Q: What triggered the idea to create 18DaysInEgypt?


Jigar Mehta: It was around day 17 of the Egyptian revolution. Just like many others, I was following the events via social media to know what was happening in real time. It was overwhelming to see masses of Egyptians taking to the streets in their remarkable bid for freedom, and ousting a leader so quickly. It wasn't Al Jazeera or CNN telling me what was happening; it was the people who were there filming on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, live streaming on YouTube.That's when I had my original inspiration: What would it be like to make a film using the media that people generated during those 18 days to tell their stories?

As 18DaysInEgypt kicked off, my team and I realized that the raw material created by Egyptians, whether a tweet, a photo or a video, was just the beginning of the storytelling process. The core part of the project has been to retrieve these snippets of moments captured by the people on location, collect their thousands of stories and make them available on our website, both in English and in Arabic.


image
18 Days in Egypt fellows and tech team. (IΛ is 18 in Arabic.)

Source: 18DaysInEgypt Kickstarter project


Who is involved in the project?


JM: My business partner Yasmin Elayat, a software developer based in Cairo, and I are the co-creators. We teamed up with documentary producer Hugo Soskin to work on the story structure and with Emerge Technology, an Egypt-based software development company. We worked on building the online collaborative storytelling platform, GroupStream. In addition, we started a fellowship program targeted at young Egyptian university graduates. There are currently six fellows who are helping us to collect and post stories on the website, but also to share media through their networks, and encourage other people to contribute with their own stories.

The people who are registering on the website right now are definitely younger people, social media savvy users, bloggers. The stories are, nevertheless, representative of a larger section of the population because young users may post stories relating to their parents, or other, elderly, family members.

What is innovative about 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: First, we introduced something that is not a one-off initiative. Unlike a traditional linear documentary, this project is rather an open, interactive space. Second, this initiative removes the curator in that the person who created the media is the one who shares the story in the way he or she wanted to tell it.

We designed a user-friendly website that guides people through the process of creating a story by enabling them to upload and store media content, produced from events recorded in real time. The stories can then be shared and accessed by everyone now and in the future.

We look at 18DaysInEgypt as a "sandbox" to experiment and gain understanding in how people can tell stories as a group and experience that journey, which is a very important part of the storytelling.



2011 Knight Fellow Jigar Mehta explains what motivated him to set out to help Egyptians capture and preserve the media they had created during the revolution.


What is the project's main appeal?

JM: I think it is its ability to show how stories are connected. We provide a place to create a story or timeline by pulling together all the media fragments from several sites and services. By adding date tags and map location, we are able to help users connect individual stories.

Besides, the site is updated every day as new features are introduced. We recently changed how we share stories: You can now like a story directly from the site's main page.

What topics are covered in the stories?


JM: The stories cover a broad variety of topics and events such as the football match tragedy in Port Said stadium, women's day, humor of Egyptian protesters, music and graffiti art inspired by the revolutionary struggle.

How has the Egyptian public responded to 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: Although 18DaysInEgypt started off as a project about the 18 days, we built the website in a way that it presents the history of the ongoing revolution. There are two interesting correlations that we have noticed in the response to our initiative. We launched the website on January 19 of this year and two weeks later, when the Port Said football disaster took place, we saw an incredible online traffic in people both registering and consuming present day stories. Furthermore, we have clearly seen a steady monthly increase in returning visitors, which is a good indication that people are wanting more.

Will the scope of the project evolve beyond the revolution? Will it expand geographically?


JM: Sure. We developed a project that really thinks in line with the way the web works; we do see the potential in this for many types of stories to be told in a new, open way. What we have seen since last year, through events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the riots in the U.K., is that people first want to see raw media elements created from the frontline (photos, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) before going to traditional media. So a platform that allows storytelling in the rawest form is very powerful.

Our major plan for the next few months is to expand outside Cairo. We recently raised funds through Kickstarter, and soon we will have fellows in Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, and other parts of Egypt.

The biggest challenge remains the gathering of thousands of stories to contribute to Egypt's big story.


image

How do you go about promoting the initiative?


JM: Our fellowship program is playing a big part in our promotional efforts. We organized a mass launch party in Tahrir Square last February 19, when the project successfully raised its funding goal. We are regularly calling on institutional sponsors and partners to support us. Not only are we feeding the site with rich content, we are also training the next generation of Egyptian journalists to gather and craft stories through the fellowship program.

We are actively involving the local press, both in English and Arabic language. We are relying on our personal networks, which is the most effective way to engage with communities and encourage more people to use the website and tell their stories.

What is your long-term vision for 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: We want to wrap up the project at some point. Perhaps after the presidential elections on May 23- 24, we will decide to stop collecting stories, then we can start working on what we call the "experience": how to take all the collected stories and present them in a digestible format for someone who, in years ahead, would like to learn about the Egyptian revolution. This is a way to make history come alive.

Alessandra Bajec, Italian/French bilingual, holds a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Between June 2010 and May 2011, she lived in Palestine, where she made her first steps as a freelance journalist. During that time, she reported on news events, conducting interviews and writing feature stories. She also contributed as English radio newscaster to Voice of An-Najah (An-Najah University). Her articles have appeared in Palestinian newswires such as the PNN, IMEMC, and The Palestine Telegraph. Now based in London, she is establishing herself as a regular freelance journalist. Her interests include Palestine, the Middle East, independent journalism, peace, human rights, and international travel.


ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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

13:15

18DaysInEgypt: Crowdsourcing a Story of Revolution

In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events as they were unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt, a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt. A former video journalist with The New York Times where he contributed to innovative collaborative media projects, Mehta was awarded a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 18DaysInEgypt and currently splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt.



18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the revolution in Egypt.


In his new capacity as digital entrepreneur, Mehta explains in a Q&A why he considers 18DaysInEgypt a pioneering storytelling platform.

Q: What triggered the idea to create 18DaysInEgypt?


Jigar Mehta: It was around day 17 of the Egyptian revolution. Just like many others, I was following the events via social media to know what was happening in real time. It was overwhelming to see masses of Egyptians taking to the streets in their remarkable bid for freedom, and ousting a leader so quickly. It wasn't Al Jazeera or CNN telling me what was happening; it was the people who were there filming on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, live streaming on YouTube.That's when I had my original inspiration: What would it be like to make a film using the media that people generated during those 18 days to tell their stories?

As 18DaysInEgypt kicked off, my team and I realized that the raw material created by Egyptians, whether a tweet, a photo or a video, was just the beginning of the storytelling process. The core part of the project has been to retrieve these snippets of moments captured by the people on location, collect their thousands of stories and make them available on our website, both in English and in Arabic.


image
18 Days in Egypt fellows and tech team. (IΛ is 18 in Arabic.)

Source: 18DaysInEgypt Kickstarter project


Who is involved in the project?


JM: My business partner Yasmin Elayat, a software developer based in Cairo, and I are the co-creators. We teamed up with documentary producer Hugo Soskin to work on the story structure and with Emerge Technology, an Egypt-based software development company. We worked on building the online collaborative storytelling platform, GroupStream. In addition, we started a fellowship program targeted at young Egyptian university graduates. There are currently six fellows who are helping us to collect and post stories on the website, but also to share media through their networks, and encourage other people to contribute with their own stories.

The people who are registering on the website right now are definitely younger people, social media savvy users, bloggers. The stories are, nevertheless, representative of a larger section of the population because young users may post stories relating to their parents, or other, elderly, family members.

What is innovative about 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: First, we introduced something that is not a one-off initiative. Unlike a traditional linear documentary, this project is rather an open, interactive space. Second, this initiative removes the curator in that the person who created the media is the one who shares the story in the way he or she wanted to tell it.

We designed a user-friendly website that guides people through the process of creating a story by enabling them to upload and store media content, produced from events recorded in real time. The stories can then be shared and accessed by everyone now and in the future.

We look at 18DaysInEgypt as a "sandbox" to experiment and gain understanding in how people can tell stories as a group and experience that journey, which is a very important part of the storytelling.



2011 Knight Fellow Jigar Mehta explains what motivated him to set out to help Egyptians capture and preserve the media they had created during the revolution.


What is the project's main appeal?

JM: I think it is its ability to show how stories are connected. We provide a place to create a story or timeline by pulling together all the media fragments from several sites and services. By adding date tags and map location, we are able to help users connect individual stories.

Besides, the site is updated every day as new features are introduced. We recently changed how we share stories: You can now like a story directly from the site's main page.

What topics are covered in the stories?


JM: The stories cover a broad variety of topics and events such as the football match tragedy in Port Said stadium, women's day, humor of Egyptian protesters, music and graffiti art inspired by the revolutionary struggle.

How has the Egyptian public responded to 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: Although 18DaysInEgypt started off as a project about the 18 days, we built the website in a way that it presents the history of the ongoing revolution. There are two interesting correlations that we have noticed in the response to our initiative. We launched the website on January 19 of this year and two weeks later, when the Port Said football disaster took place, we saw an incredible online traffic in people both registering and consuming present day stories. Furthermore, we have clearly seen a steady monthly increase in returning visitors, which is a good indication that people are wanting more.

Will the scope of the project evolve beyond the revolution? Will it expand geographically?


JM: Sure. We developed a project that really thinks in line with the way the web works; we do see the potential in this for many types of stories to be told in a new, open way. What we have seen since last year, through events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the riots in the U.K., is that people first want to see raw media elements created from the frontline (photos, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) before going to traditional media. So a platform that allows storytelling in the rawest form is very powerful.

Our major plan for the next few months is to expand outside Cairo. We recently raised funds through Kickstarter, and soon we will have fellows in Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, and other parts of Egypt.

The biggest challenge remains the gathering of thousands of stories to contribute to Egypt's big story.


image

How do you go about promoting the initiative?


JM: Our fellowship program is playing a big part in our promotional efforts. We organized a mass launch party in Tahrir Square last February 19, when the project successfully raised its funding goal. We are regularly calling on institutional sponsors and partners to support us. Not only are we feeding the site with rich content, we are also training the next generation of Egyptian journalists to gather and craft stories through the fellowship program.

We are actively involving the local press, both in English and Arabic language. We are relying on our personal networks, which is the most effective way to engage with communities and encourage more people to use the website and tell their stories.

What is your long-term vision for 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: We want to wrap up the project at some point. Perhaps after the presidential elections on May 23- 24, we will decide to stop collecting stories, then we can start working on what we call the "experience": how to take all the collected stories and present them in a digestible format for someone who, in years ahead, would like to learn about the Egyptian revolution. This is a way to make history come alive.

Alessandra Bajec, Italian/French bilingual, holds a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Between June 2010 and May 2011, she lived in Palestine, where she made her first steps as a freelance journalist. During that time, she reported on news events, conducting interviews and writing feature stories. She also contributed as English radio newscaster to Voice of An-Najah (An-Najah University). Her articles have appeared in Palestinian newswires such as the PNN, IMEMC, and The Palestine Telegraph. Now based in London, she is establishing herself as a regular freelance journalist. Her interests include Palestine, the Middle East, independent journalism, peace, human rights, and international travel.


ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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

February 24 2011

13:00

Matt Wells on The Guardian’s interactive protests Twitter map

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | World news | guardian.co.uk

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | guardian.co.uk

The Guardian have published an impressive map displaying Twitter coverage of protests around the Arab world and the Middle East. I asked Matt Wells, who oversaw the project, to explain how it came about.

The initial idea, which I should credit to deputy editor Ian Katz, was to build something that showcased the tweets of our correspondents, along a broader network of vetted tweeters in different countries. We wanted to connect all of these on a map, so you could click on a country and see relevant live-updating tweets.

I was asked to oversee it. The main thing was to check out the best English-language tweeters in each country – preferably people who appeared reliable, who were involved in first-hand reporting themselves, and who did a lot of retweeting of others.

I started by asking our correspondents who they followed, then broadened it out from there. We asked everyone if they minded being included – we had one refusal from a Tweeter in a particularly authoritartian country who was worried about the exposure. Everyone else thought it was a great idea.

Meanwhile one of our developers, Garry Blight, overseen by Alastair Dant, set about building it. As with anything of this kind, it took a bit longer than orginally anticipated, but we had it ready on the day that Mubarak fell. And brilliantly, it has worked for every country since then.

It’s powered by a Google spreadsheet – so it’s really easy to add new people and to attach them to particular countries or search terms.

And it should be very easily adaptable for other news events around the world.

February 15 2011

15:48

Will the Next Revolution be Stroomed?

When you think of the recent unrest in the Middle East, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube immediately come to mind.

Yet in an era where the revolution no longer need be televised -- now it's tweeted -- wouldn't a collaborative online video editing platform that allows producers, correspondents and reporters to create news reports in real time be a welcome addition to the insurgents' arsenal?

Well, such a tool does exist. It's called Stroome. And in a time when the journalist's traditional role -- to build and curate an informed public -- is rapidly eroding as citizens now are able to inform themselves and one another, is it possible that video will soon replace text as the central means of communication? Could it be that the next revolution will be Stroomed?

An Email Exchange

It turns out, the idea just might not be as far-fetched as you'd think:

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 07:23:15 -0600 Subject: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hello Stroome team,

Would like to thank you first for a great application and social network your team has created.

I work for a non-profit organization with a mission to enable young people from the West and predominantly Muslim societies to have cross-cultural dialogues using new media technologies.

[H]ow can [we] include Stroome within our online community?

And so began the email that Stroome co-founder Nonny de la Pena and I received the morning of January 20, 2011.

The sender's name was WilYaWil, and his request was simple: Would we work with his organization to facilitate dialogue between students with diverse backgrounds from around the world?

Considering collaboration is at the center of the Stroome experience, the connection was a no-brainer. Skype addresses were exchanged; a call was set for the following Wednesday.

Revolution Intervenes

But just minutes before the call was to take place, we received a second email from WilYaWil. Our conversation, it seemed, would need to be postponed:

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2011 03:45:01 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Tom, sorry for the late reply. I hope we can postpone our meeting today. I'm in Egypt and we are living in exciting times with the start of freedom protests yesterday in Cairo and other cities around Egypt. I will be taking part today. I apologize for the short notice. I will get in touch with you and Nonny again on Friday to reschedule.

Frankly, I thought little of it. There was little in the tone of WilYaWil's email to foreshadow the extraordinary events that were about to unfold.

As it turns out, I had very much misread the situation.

The following morning, I -- along with the world -- woke up to an Egypt in crisis. This was more than simply an "exciting time." This was a revolution. Or at least it certainly had the makings of one.

By day's end, a third email arrived, and we learned -- again, just as the world was learning -- that the Egyptian government had blocked Twitter and Facebook.

Egypt screenshot.jpg

Nonny quickly sprang into action. A group titled "Egypt Protests" was created on Stroome. Open access was granted so that anyone could upload and edit their first-person video accounts of the protests. And the participants on the email thread were notified immediately.

Internet Shutdown

Unfortunately, our impromptu workaround was thwarted when the Egyptian government shut down Internet access to the entire country. And while President Mubarak's decision to plunge some 80 million Egyptians into the 21st-century of equivalent of "radio silence" would last nearly five days, it would be over a week before we heard from WilYaWil.

Then on Wednesday, February 9 -- almost three weeks to the day from our first correspondence -- WilYaWil resurfaced. Again, his tone was upbeat:

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2011 13:21:00 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hi Thomas and Nonny,

We are living in an exciting time here in Egypt. I've started using Stroome already, I've uploaded the videos I shot on Friday 28th January, I hope others find it useful and can remix it.

I would like us to meet soon so that we can discuss how [we] could work together. We can meet tomorrow or Friday anytime between 8pm - 10pm CLT / 10am - 12 noon LA time.

And while we had no way of knowing at the time, history was once again about to find a way of encroaching on our plans.

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to connect with WilYaWil on Friday morning, CNN reported that Hosni Mubarak was going to make it formal: After more than 30 years in power, the Egyptian president was stepping down. Considering the momentous nature of the announcement, naturally I assumed the call would be pushed back once again.

Suddenly, the familiar "bing, bing, bing" signaling an incoming Skype call could be heard as a cartoon avatar of a young man wearing a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and neatly cropped brown hair appeared on my screen.

"This is a remarkable tool," WilYaWil said of Stroome, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. "The ability to collaborate and work together with video. No one is doing it. It's revolutionary. It's going to change things."

He was so passionate, so imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, so in the moment and excited about those "exciting times" in which he was living that I honestly think WilYaWil failed to grasp the irony of the words he'd just uttered.

I, on the other hand, caught every drop of it.

To see some of WilYaWil's Egyptian video uploads, register at Stroome.com and type "Egypt" into the search bar.

If you would like to follow WilYaWil's Twitter feed click here

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