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...more »
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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...more »
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. Junkyard Jumbotron from...more »
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...more »
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 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...more »
I had not planned on attending O'Reilly's Gov2.0 conference, which is an exposition and dialog about new forms of government and information technology. But at last week's Foo Camp (another O'Reilly event) I met a number of people in the field, and I became pretty excited with what I heard. For example, I attended a session on government and data and sat next to a deputy CTO from the White House. I was surprised by the sincere and urgent dialog that was taking place with information activists and coders. The White House and geeks? What's not to like? As I...more »
Last June we held our Future of News & Future Civic Media conference, here at MIT, with many recipients of the Knight News Challenge meeting, speaking, and demoing their work. We chose to use the "barcamp" un-conference technique for most of the sessions, where all participants to the conference were able to host a session. This flat, democratic style turned out to be perfect for a group of citizen journalists, social software hackers, information activists, and researchers. Here is a brief video (by film makers Paula Aguilera and Jonathan Williams) that gives a sense of the flavor of FNFCM09....more »
One of the central shifts implicit in user-generated information is that in many cases the user will be closer to the subject than a reporter may have been. Journalists, like ethnographers or consultants, are separated from their subjects by factors like structures of reward (salary) and professional codes (organized skepticism, systematic disinterestedness). These factors are sometimes driven by ethical positions and sometimes are byproducts of revenue structures, but have been seen as important to the neutrality and objectivity that characterize recent ideas of journalism. Citizen-created content falls in a different space; as I have said elsewhere, it starts to look...more »
I've written before about the extrACT suite of software tools we have been developing at MIT: information and communication technologies that promote community collective action. We have started to introduce the first of these tools, Landman Report Card, to communities in Texas and Ohio that are being confronted by the impacts of natural gas extraction. The experiences that citizens are recording with it are as remarkable as they are heartbreaking. Residents out west, in some of the most scenic and (until recently) unspoiled parts of the US have called their regions a "national sacrifice zone" where their health, welfare, and...more »
This week our development team announced the release of the LandmanReportCard (LRC), the first of our experiments in designing tools for community understanding and self-defense. We've chosen one of the most difficult community contexts imaginable: neighborhoods, mostly rural, that stand in the path of some of the richest and most powerful corporations in the world. In the mix are weak and compromised governments, a lack of local media, mutant baby goats, a toxic soup of industrial byproducts, unmatched potential for profits, flammable tap water, and a clean burning source of energy that may be central to national security. It is...more »
"What's the business model?" It's a question I hear again and again at meetings and events. The existing model for newspapers is quickly unraveling, so we need a 'new new thing' to serve some of the vital functions that newspapers used to. Whatever that new new thing may be, it is supposed to have a business model: a business model is what separates the well-meaning amateur from the sustainable enterprise. It is vital for securing loans or venture capital. You can't be serious about sustaining a venture unless you have a plan for a business that will sustain that venture....more »
I think newspapers, blogs, and magazines should all be doing audio versions. I grew up enjoying and listening to audiobooks and now I don't have the same option for the short form content that I prefer to consume.
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