natematias's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Check Out the Internet & Internet to Go: Two Library WIFI programs funded by the Knight Foundation

We're here at the MIT Knight Civic Media Conference, where Alberto Ibarguen and John Bracken have just announced the winners of the latest news challenge, which asked the question "How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation?" Sands Fish and I were there to liveblog the presentation of grantees. Willow Brugh contributed artwork.

Two of this round's grantees went to public libraries that are planning initiatives for community members to check out WIFI hotspots for their neighborhoods: the New York Public Library's "Check out the Internet" project and "Internet to Go" by the Chicago Public Library. Here's what they said when they went onstage:

Caring for Audiences and Communities Alike: Ivan Sigal at the Berkman Center

Is it possible to focus on high quality reporting about geographically diverse communities while also reaching global audiences?

That's the question asked today at the Berkman Center by Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices. Originally founded at the Berkman Center, Global Voices is an online citizen media network that amplifies unheard stories and perspectives. He designs and creates media projects around the world with a focus on networked communities, conflict, development, and humanitarian disasters.

Going Beyond Being There: Judith Donath and The Social Machine

Judith Donath has been doing social media, interaction design, and data visualization long before social media existed, as the principal investigator at the MIT Media Lab's Sociable Media Group. Today, she launched her new book, The Social Machine. Erhardt and I were there to blog it.

As more people socialize, marry, and go to school online, our interfaces remain unsophisticated compared to the social interactions we tend to have elsewhere. We tend to think that our recent creations offer the culmination of human evolution, but there's so much that we don't see. Many of the problems we see online-- such as poor behaviour and difficulties with telling the veracity of information-- arise from the difficulty of fully using our senses when interacting with others.

Are You a Spartaca? Symbol Based Activism and Positive Space

A few years ago, a close friend (not at MIT) asked for my advice. Work colleagues had been sexually harassed, and this friend didn't know what to do:  the offender was prominent, respected, and considered indispensable by his organisation. This friend took the courageous move of reporting the issue, starting a process that was emotionally difficult and risky for this friend's career. I was glad that this friend reached out to me. Although I mostly just listened, no one should have to be alone in their courageous acts for justice.

Have you faced gender-based workplace harassment in technology industry? Have you taken the risk of speaking out against that harassment, or have you instituted policies and practices in your organisation that protects people against gender discrimination? Have you felt too afraid to say or do anything? Are you committed to supporting people who have experienced these risks? In all these cases, you may be a Spartaca.

Design Strategies for Crowdsourcing Policy: Elizabeth Murnane at the Cooperation Group

Can we actually crowdsource policy, if e-democracy technology is simply adding token digital inputs to political processes that aren't naturally inclusive?

Last week at the Berkman Center's Cooperation Working Group, we were joined by Elizabeth Murnane, a 3rd year PhD student in Information Science at Cornell University, where her research aims to help people more effectively find, create, and reflect on digital information. For her PhD, she designs intelligent systems that can better recognise and tune themselves to individual's abilities, a question that puts her right at the middle of what civic engagement means in the 21st century.

Giving and Receiving Online:

Today is the Harvard launch of, a social network and app that facilitates a culture of giving and receiving. Hasit Shah helped me liveblog the event. SJ Klein also took livenotes.

Lily Cole, founder of, is a social entrepreneur, fashion model and actress. An advocate for socio-political and environmental issues, she has employed technology, writing, filmmaking and public speaking as means to build awareness and encourage dialogue. Two years ago, she began developing, a social network that encourages users to exchange skills and services for free in the hope of encouraging a peer-to-peer gift economy.

Kim Furtun: Science and Explanatory Pluralism in Late Industrialism

Photo Gallery: Bhopal's Toxic Legacy

SIMONE KAISER / DER SPIEGEL The Bhopal disaster in 1984 was one of the worst industrial accidents in history. But almost three decades later, toxic waste is still being stored on the site under poor conditions. Here, the remains of the Union Carbide plant.

Writing Fiction Together: Ensemble, a Collaborative Storytelling System

Can crowds write fiction together? Ensemble is a platform for massive participatory story writing, designed by Joy Kim, Justin Cheng, and Michael Bernstein. Here at the ACM Conference for Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Joy gave a talk about her system.


Researching Makers: Hackerspaces, Repair, and Civic Hacking

Today, Ricarose Roque and I attended a panel on "Making Cultures" at CSCW, the ACM's conference on computer supported cooperative work. Here are our notes.

Daniela Rosner starts out by setting the scene: Over the past decade, thousands of programmers, designers, and engineers have gathered at hacker spaces, co-labs, and makerspaces to rethink and recreate technologies in collaboration. They share beliefs about what technology should be designed to do, discussing how information should be shared, and how to design the worlds we want. Researchers are now starting to study these movements, asking what these spaces look like, what ways do their practices changes across these sites, and what values connect them with the wider world. This panel includes some of those researchers.

3 Findings on Data & Design for Civic Participation: Tracking Donations via Email, Action Brokering Platforms, Voting With Your Body

I'm here at CSCW, the ACM conference for Computer Supported Cooperative Work (full publication list here). This morning, our session is on civic participation. Brian Keegan started out the session, introducing the three papers.

update feb 24: @EthanZ found glitches in the liveblog, which I have corrected by finishing a sentence and correcting the chart of donations per solicitation.

==Understanding Donation Behavior through Email==
by Yelena Mejova, Venkata RK Garimella, Ingmar Weber, and Michael C Dougal of Yahoo Research