community | MIT Center for Civic Media

Civic Media: Engaging, Opening, and Improving Communities

My name is M. C. McGrath. I am a student at Boston University who is taking the Intro to Civic Media class this fall. I have been around the Media Lab a bit for the past three years as a research intern in Affective Computing but lately I have gotten quite interested in the work of the Civic Media group. These past two years I have gotten involved in the free information and Occupy movements. I am one of the founders of a nonprofit called Civic Counsel that creates technology to promote civic engagement, makes tools for activists, and teaches people how to use the tools we create and others.

Let the Vojo workshops begin!

On Friday, Becky Hurwitz, Paolo Rogerio, and I had the opportunity to conduct mobile media-making workshops with two community based organizations (CBOs) that form part of Boston's large and vibrant Brazilian community. The first workshop was with staff from the Brazilian Immigrant Center (here's their new Vojo group), and the second was with about 20 members of the Vida Verde Co-Op (here's the Vida Verde Vojo group). It was an exciting moment, since these were the first real workshops to use the VoJo hosted mobile blogging platform in a community setting. This post provides a little bit of background about VoJo, then reflects on the two workshops and the lessons learned.

tl;dr: is live! F2F workshops rock. People <3 mobile blogging via voice calls and MMS. Group creation and customization works nicely; new users are easily able to post and create accounts directly from phones. But: we need printed how-to materials; in big f2f workshops, we need to demo each feature before switching to hands-on; changing your username is still fairly difficult; calling in stories needs simpler UX; we have to make SMS broadcast to groups work.

Amauta Free Space project

So, after much reflection, I decided to do the Amauta Free Space project, since it's my passion at the moment, consuming my time and thoughts. As I mentioned before, it would consist of an open collaborative space for democratic participation, where those who take part in it build a virtual community interacting on a set of basic principles (if you can understand Spanish, you can see our diagram here):

Permanent reunion: How can the civic media community collaborate throughout the year?

This June's Civic Media Conference was described in glowing terms by so many of you who attended, but no term was as oft-repeated -- and to me, as heartwarming and frustrating -- as the word "reunion".

Why would a reunion be heartwarming and frustrating, assuming you're not meeting your high school sweetheart? Well, we love it that so many past attendees are able to get together again, collaborate again, have a few drinks again. But we hate it that we haven't found a way to keep attendees together, collaborating, and socializing throughout the rest of the year.

That is, in the word "reunion" is an implication that we've been apart.

So I wrote to our 200+ attendees and asked a simple question: how can we better collaborate in person throughout the year? In fact, what already works well in your organization, your community, and your neighborhood?

We got some great responses and want your thoughts in the comment field below:

I would suggest creating a think tank of sorts, a place that people can post their ideas, thoughts, etc, in a casual way so we can share our musings.

Sourcemap'd: Grain Drain in the Rocky Mountain West

(This is part of what we hope will be a larger series; a more comprehensive look at the communities using Sourcemap and those interesting uses they have developed.)

The University of Montana's School of Journalism collaborated with us over the past term by using Sourcemap as part of a class on online news. Our collaborator, Lee Banville, wanted to connect journalism students in his class with tools and technologies that construct perspectives and develop narrative frameworks for the web. In practice, this ranged from ideas on crowd-sourced feedback and commentary to devices like web mapping that drive new presentations of stories.

Improving the interface to disabled YouTube videos

One seldom discussed effect of Warner Music Group's locust-like raid on the YouTube community is the loss of video metadata. When access to a video is disabled for reasons of alleged copyright infringement, users see a page like this:

Typical message for a disabled YouTube video

The video is not the only thing lost, however. Along with access to the video, YouTube disables access to all accompanying information: the title, tags, description, comments, related videos, response videos, ratings, and number of views. While S.512(c)(1) of the DMCA certainly compels the wise service provider to disable the allegedly infringing video, they could do so without ripping a node out of the network like a bandage from a hairy knee!

Imagine instead that the pages for disabled videos were rendered like this mockup: