Tag Archives: politics

Organised citizen journalism is here

Rachel Sterne is CEO of GroundReport, a global citizen news platform that empowers anyone to publish and earn money from original, intelligent reporting. She founded the platform in 2006 with the mission to democratize the media and help the world share its stories.

You can find a brilliant, if long interview with her at Breaking News. And no, it’s not yet another article that will tell you that newspaper are dying and that social media is the new game. Ground Report looks like a real cradle of organised citizen reporting that seems far more trustworthy than Twitter and far more diverse and interesting than mainstream media.

[Via Breaking News & Jonathan Stray]

Public-centered design (please!)

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I’m from time to time thoroughly startled and unimpressed by how public services and businesses work around time. Businesses and public services exist by getting money out of the public. In other words, the public (yes, we), pay their wages and allow them to exist. The question I have is then this: why don’t public services in particular serve the public in times of day that are more appropriate for the public? How is it meant to be agreeable to not be able to see a doctor or register at a GP in the UK without having to take off work? Seriously, something is way off here.

I can let go of why businesses work 9-5, it is their decision about when and how much money they want to make and what kind of customer relationships they want to build. Nevertheless, I don’t quite understand why they stick to their working hours as they do – opening your shop for longer or different hours would give you a better competitive edge over other businesses and possibly make your customers happier. Businesses already ‘get it’ in the south of Europe – it’s nothing unusual to find shops open at 2pm and closing at 10pm. To sum it up, later opening hours could bring businesses:

  1. higher income
  2. better customer loyalty
  3. better competitive edge

Any thoughts? Is it too much to expect people who want to profit from me to let me give them money when I choose to? Or having public services available when the public is?

Mind bubbles

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Information distribution has changed dramatically over the last decade, but people really haven’t. Though there is more information and opinion available than ever before and though we may consume it differently, we actually select the information in ways similar to how we’ve always done it. Most people still read only sources that they ‘like’ and sources they ‘like’ most often offer information and opinions compatible with those of their own.

Picture 2a social network analysis of the purchase patterns of political books since 2003

Social networks, apart from niche ones like Ning or Twine (more semantically rather than socially structured), aren’t built around political compatibility, but my guess is that a lot of the networks would have a high degree of political homogeneity. People tend to choose or subconsciously migrate towards groups, neighborhoods and people who share their political views. Thus, if one shares or reads information through something like Facebook, there is a good chance that what you’re looking at comes from a person with views similar to those of your own.

RSS readers are an obvious example: we subscribe only to selected ‘liked’ information providers and the cycle goes on. With Twitter things seem to have a potential of getting more open since it’s a space of everything from everywhere with no clear thematic structure, but ultimately the system has a good chance of resembling the RSS system to the users.

In the age of disaggregation, the money is in giving people what they want. Unfortunately, what we want — and don’t think you’re different — is to have our existing opinions confirmed. You and I and everyone else are going to be far more likely to click through from a headline that confirms what we already believe than from one which challenges us. “I don’t need to read that,” we’ll say, “it’s clearly just biased crap.” The computers will see this, and any sort of recommendation algorithm will quickly end up as a mirror to our preconceptions.

So, provided we actually would like to do it, how could we break past the opinion and information bubbles we’re all in? Some, like Jonathan think that the solution is maps so that ‘instead of trying to decide what someone “should” see, you just make clear to them what they could see.’ This could work since visualisations can be very impressive, but from my experience they’re more of a thing you look at once or twice with interest and then walk back to your safety net. I, for pure user convenience sake reasons, think you could have a system that searches for an alternative version of whatever you’re reading and lets you click a link with a headline on a sidebar to create a mirror of what you’re missing.

Would anyone actually want these kinds of services? Would it lead to a better understanding of things we might be fighting for and against on a regular basis in the political sphere? Opinions welcome!

[Via Jonathan]

Digital Governance

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After the Iran – Twitter showdown, we’ve heard all about the role of new media in enabling political change around the world. What intrigues me further is what seems to be an active engagement with digital media of politicians and governments in the UK and the US.  We’ve also witnessed Obama’s campaign embracing new media in a way never seen before. Digital Britian (pdf file) is a conscious step in the UK to immerse it in more digital participation while Gordon Brown claims that ‘tech has changed foreign policy’ and it’s  one of the few times this has been said publicly by a member of a government. What will be the next steps in this trend? Will the new media enhance what democracy is meant to be about in its purest sense of participation?

Generation M Manifesto and structuring change

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Umair Haque has published a manifesto calling for a new (though in some aspects already existing) range of business, financial, political and social organisation. I’m going to discuss a bit of it and add my own bits of opinion. You might want to read it before going on.

As said within the manifesto, the ‘generation’ word does not refer to the age range but rather to the mindset of those who are willing to participate or are already participating in this movement. The manifesto is a nice piece of political writing that can lead to a change, but that change has to be fed with actionable ideas for solutions in all ranges of social and commercial activity that it touches. I can see how policy can be implemented on a local or state level, but when we look at what goes on in some developing countries it seems like it might be a good idea to try and figure out how an implementation of the system’s correction can be taken to a global level. I’m not arguing for a global government, no no, but rather for a way of enforcing a system of corporate control around the globe. Setting the right standards at home is a great start, but it might just not be enough.

I think you can’t expect the big corporations to have values when it comes to social issues and the environment. The primary purpose for corporations is to make money and as such the only way to deal with them is by enforcing a system that creates carrots through tax breaks and sticks through greater tax schemes. It should not be possible for Western corporations to avoid this by creating huge outsourcing posts in developing countries. Corporations need to be monitored as far as their environmental and social responsibility and taxed fairly according to how much of an effort they make in those spheres.

I am neither a policital writer nor a liberalist ranter, but I want to continue this conversation and see what ideas might be out there. Feel free to shoot this idea or drip your own, both will be appreciated.

[Image courtesy of Andre Jordan]

The rise of the sensor citizen

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Anne Galloway published a fantastic essay on community mapping, locative media and their potential impact on everything from pollution control to politics and just fun things like emotion mapping in urban environments.

Community mapping and sensing projects that use commonly available consumer electronics as environmental measurement devices, enable people to collect and view a wide array of location-based data. As a form of public science, such projects stand to reinvigorate environmentally focused civic engagement. However, given public concerns around environmental risks and their connections to technological progress, I believe that this kind of active citizenship should promote more critical reflection on the values and goals of the very projects that expect to create such profound changes in these domains, and carefully consider the limits of its own power.

Read full article here.

The new and the better

Us Now is a fantastic documentary created by Banyak Films. Exploring new forms of social organisation and the empowering of the individual, the video provides excellent insights into new possiblities of the digital sphere. Linux, Couchsurfing, Mumsnet, Meetup and Zopa are just some of case studies presented alongside an interesting debate of the future of political and social change.

Free Tibet, F*ck China

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I’ll admit that I had some trouble with picking the tile for this post. I’m trying to keep this blog politics and bad words-free you see, so before this post became what it is it was meant to be just ‘Free Tibet’ (but then I didn’t want to be yet another person screaming activist thoughts into the web), then ‘F*ck China’ (but then I started feeling guilty about the F word again) or something like ‘Peace Bookings’. The first two may come intuitively to most who read the original title, but the third one may be a bit of a throw-off. Well, just keep reading.

I’m on holidays in Poland right now and will continue to reenvelop myself in my hometown and the Polish countryside for the next week and a half. I don’t watch TV back ‘home’: I refuse to have the cable coctail of some value and mostly nonsense come into my home in London. Probably because of this self-imposed restraint, TV has a pretty mesmerising effect on me whenever we do come face-to-face. Just now I finished watching an excellent documentary called ‘Dispatches: Undercover in Tibet’ by Tash Despa.

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Despa fled Tibet 11 years ago. If you’re a bit behind on why anyone would flee Tibe, the BBC has a very handy Q&A section on the history of the Chinese-Tibetan conflict. To make the film, Despa returned to Tibet with a hidden camera to film  stories of torture, murder and forced sterilisation that China does not want the world to hear. Besides the horrors described in the film, one can also easily pick up on a long-term plan of the Chinese government to eradicate the Tibetans culturally, linguistically and by their sheer power of numbers of Chinese immigrants pouring into the region. Tibetan resources’ value is estimated at $ 81.3 billion not to mention other strategic gains China is in for through their occupation of the region.

To stop the rant and try to do something a little more useful in the short term, I’ll get to the original third title option of this post, that is ‘Peace Bookings’. Peace Bookings is a site that has affiliate relationships with dozens of travel sites. Each time you click through a link to book something, a small commission for the sale (US $1 – $5) is diverted to their account that supports humanitarian causes in Tibet and Myanmar. The prices of tickets are not raised, but the commission still gets to the right hands. Through it would probably destroy Peace Bookings, it would be nice to see Kayak or other big booking sites enable similar services.

Wikileaks

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Wikileaks is a developing platform for leaking and reading uncensored documents stemming from oppressive governments and internal corporate environments and at this point includes over 1.2 million documents. ‘Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we are of assistance to people of nations who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations,’ says the description of Wikileaks. According to the Times, Wikileaks  ‘could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act’ by providing a safe haven for those who want to expose injustice, violence or corruption within their governments or corporations without the fear of being exposed or persecuted.

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Wikileaks was started by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Since January 2007 Wikileaks has been banned by the Chinese government. What about authenticity, you may ask; just as one can make claims about the authenticity of common knowledge on Wikipedia, one can make ones about whether what is being released on Wikileaks is authentic information. Wikileaks however claims the following: ‘Wikileaks staff, who are investigative journalists, forensically all documents and label any suspicions of inauthenticity based on a forensic analysis of the document, means, motive and opportunity, cost of forgery and so on. We have become world leaders in this, have never, as far as anyone is aware, made a mistake’. Beyond the chances of making mistakes, Wikileaks provides an important channel of free information and a source of increasing government and corporate transparency.