Andre Muggiati's blog

Civindex: a new concept to measure influence on social networks, based on civic engagement

Earlier this year I came across a news piece on Wired, about Klout, the company that created a score that ranks people on the internet according to their activity in Social Media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. The piece describes how people gain “points” on their Klout score, according to number of twits, products promotion, etc. Basically, Klout is a market oriented tool, that will use and stimulate peoples activity on social media to promote products. A person with a high Klout score will be offered shopping coupons, promotions, access to concerts etc. What intrigued me was that Klout is totally market oriented and doesn’t analyze the quality of the person’s activity on the web.

Then, I started to think about an alternative tool, which could rank the civic quality and the context of a person’s internet activity. Basically, it would be based on an algorithm that would analyze words, expressions, action verbs and connections to people with high social activity in society, to create a social rank. That’s how the idea of Civindex came up.

Is Civindex gamification?

On the project workshop session with professor Sasha Costanza-Shock, he suggested the reading of Ian Bogost texts about games and “gamification”, in the light of my final project, which aims to develop a project to create a tool to measure individual civic participation on the web, which I named Civindex. I had never heard the expression “gamification” before, but it seemed to make sense, as there are indeed some game elements in the use of the tool, as we are attributing a score related to people’s discussions and actions related to human rights, development, environment, urban improvement and other civic activities.

However, I was intrigued with Bogost’s position: “Gamification is bullshit” is his main text on the subject. He starts from the definition of bullshit by Harry Frankfurt: “Bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit”.

Civindex: the Italian connection

Great news for the Civindex project. Right after I wrote here about the idea of creating an index to measure personal activist participation on the internet, I received an interesting message on the comments section: “Hi Andre, I came across this interesting post. I found this idea intriguing. I am also conducting some research on similar topics. Why don't we have a chat on this?”

It turned out to be a message from Stefano de Paoli, an Italian researcher from the <ahref Foundation and University of Trento, who studies the interactions between technology and society. One of Stefano’s colleagues Luca de Biase (chairman of Fondazione ahref) visited the MIT last year, and they are implementing the Civic Media concepts in Italy.

After some difficulty in finding a common time for this chat, we ended up talking, earlier this week, and decided to work together on the project.

The political economy of mass media class

Every week one of us is assigned to write a blog about the last Introduction to Civic Media class. So this week is my turn.

We started the class reviewing a few of the projects that were presented in this blog the week before. The projects are receiving faculty advice, either personally, through e-mails or blog comments on the posts.

Then we went through the theory which, for most of us in class, was very dense this week. The texts assigned for reading were all anchored on Marxist based communication theory. For starters, Sasha drove us through a review of some basic Marxist concepts, like capital, time and labor, modes of production, classes, means of production, base and superstructure.

Civindex: trying to measure individual civic activity

Earlier this year I came across a news piece on Wired, about Klout, What Your Klout Score Really Means. The company created a score that ranks people on the internet according to their activity in Social Media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. The piece describes how people gain “points” on their Klout score, according to number of tweets, products promotion, etc. Basically, Klout is a market oriented tool, that will use and stimulate people's activity on social media to promote products. A person with a high Klout score will be offered shopping coupons, promotions, access to concerts etc. What intrigued me was that Klout is extremely market oriented and doesn’t really analyse the quality of the person’s activity on the web. It also ranks Justin Bieber with a perfect Klout score.

As it turns out, I opted out of Klout.

Internet inclusion to save the Rainforest

In our second Civic Media Class at the MIT we worked on a model that could illustrate the problem of digital exclusion or limitations that make people have different qualities of access to the internet. Our discussion departed from interesting article talking about different factors that influence exclusion. One of them, for example, mapped the access to the internet in different neighborhoods of Los Angeles (Modarres and Pitkin (2006). "Technology and the Geography of Inequality in Los Angeles." Pat Brown Public Policy Institute: http://www.patbrowninstitute.org/documents/publications/CTF_Report.pdf), concluding that Latin communities of that city have more difficulties in access. Digital inequalities are everywhere.

From the Amazon Rainforest, into the future

In early June I was at the city of Sao Luis, in the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, in Brazil. I waited with a lawyer, in front of the city’s harbor, while 20 of my colleagues, activists and volunteers, occupied the port in a protest against shipments of charcoal that were destroying the rainforest. Hordes of police cars arrived to the area and the situation was very tense. My boss tried to negotiate a solution with the vice-governor and anything could happen. My thoughts, however, were already somewhere else. My thoughts were focused on the future.

After 20 years of professional experience as a journalist and social activist, --and 8 years on a job that I loved with the environmental group Greenpeace--, there I was, leaving everything, in the pursuit of a dream. A few months earlier I had been admitted to the Harvard Kennedy School and accepted the challenge of being a student again. In the following week I would jump on an airplane towards a new city, a new school, with new friends and new possibilities. At that moment, with bags packed, I had no idea how it was going to be.