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Archive for the 'Tools' Category

What Twitter is good for


Today’s local gov’t digital responsivess score: Boston Police 1, MBTA 0

Riding the #1 bus across the Charles to Cambridge for the last half-day of Media in Transition this morning, was mildly horrified to notice our driver holding the wheel with his forearms. Both hands were engaged with the keyboard of his cell phone and his gaze shifted between the road and his tiny screen. Didn’t think quickly enough to pull out the iPhone and snap a picture, but when I had settled into my conference session to listen to Ben Peters explain the failure of the Soviet Union to develop the Internet, I searched on Twitter in vain for an official MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) Twitter address (a few informal ones and one set up to insult the “T” as we call the Metro here in Boston). But the Boston Police are there! So I tweeted as follows:

8:50AM headed to #MIT6 just missed getting photo of driver on #1 texting while bus moving. MBTA not on Twitter!! Maybe @Boston_Police care?

And some while later, the Boston Police answered:

thanks – will forward to T.

Now that is the just the kind of civic participation instant gratification elation the Twit-o-sphere is made for.

They also thoughtfully advised me on the proper use of their Twitter:

Thank you for following the Boston Police(beta). We monitor @ replies, but in case of emergency, always phone 911.

Kudos to the Tweeting Boston Police, and Mass voters, please support increasing the gas tax to fund more better and more responsive mass transit.

Media Cloud, because media are like weather, isn’t it?


Media Cloud. It’s a tool. It’s a database. It’s a kind of mechanized form of content analysis. It’s chocolately goodness.
It’s raining news
Developed by some of the clever folks at Berkman, Media Cloud takes the output of many many many (1500 so far) news sources, from the New York Times to blogs of all persuasions and parses them using an incredibly powerful free tool from Thomson Reuters with the lovely if mysterious name of Calais. After that, you can use it to ask questions about who’s covering what country, what topics are mentioned most in which media (“New York” is in the top ten for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, but NOT for the New York Times? hmm) and what terms are used with specific terms (in non-Boston general interest media, the top ten things mentioned with “Boston” almost always includes the Celtics).

The stuff you can try out now on the site is just the beginning – the developers want you to begin to help them imagine the possibilities.

As Ethan Zuckerman explains on his blog and in a video interview at Nieman Labs, one of the reasons Berkman decided to do this was to help people like Ethan (and me) prove to Yochai Benkler and others that the blogosphere’s power is mostly not about initiating original reporting.

I am compelled to put in my own tiny claim (success has a thousand mothers, or however it goes) to a place in the Media Cloud origin myth. Early on in my year at Berkman, I went to talk to Berkman guru Jonathan Zittrain about how to shape my Media Re:public project. He had two suggestions – one was an interesting and complicated idea about the political blogosphere and the presidential election which I rejected instantly not so much because it would have eaten the entire project and not been what Berkman and MacArthur had in mind but because although at that time I didn’t dare admit it, I find political blogs more boring than I can convey in polite language. The second thing that Prof. Zittrain said was vaguer, but much more intriguing. He said – “Don’t just produce another boring white paper” (oops) “why don’t you make something for MacArthur that lasts beyond the project – a gift that keeps on giving. Some kind of tool or something.” I relayed this thought to Ethan Zuckerman, who’d already done some experiments in this area, and Hal Roberts, who was able to conceive of how to do it on a much grander scale. They brought in other folks, including the multi-talented Steve Schultze and the rest is history. Or at least weather. Go, play!

PS it’s not just the name of Calais that’s opaque, try understanding the dense prose poetry below (you downstream reader, you!)
About the Thomson Reuters Calais Initiative
The Calais initiative supports the interoperability of content and advances Thomson Reuters mission to deliver intelligent information. It leverages the company’s substantial investment in semantic technologies and Natural Language Processing to offer free metadata generation services, developer tools and an open standard for the generation of semantic content. It also provides publishers with an automatic connection to the Linked Data cloud and introduces a global metadata transport layer that helps them leverage next-generation search engines, news aggregators and more to reach more downstream readers. For more information or to get started with the Calais API, visit

2007_09_09_bos-iad-lhr069.JPG by doc searls
Uploaded September 15, 2007

Whole world(wideweb) in my hand(held device)


It’s one thing to say, as I frequently have, (though to my embarrassment not nearly enough in my Media Re:public papers), that handheld devices will be the computers and the internet platforms of most of the world and that everyone doing something with media (or, in fact, anything at all that involves information) in any country in the world, developed or otherwise, should be figuring out where mobile comes in.It’s another thing to see with your own eyes that this is not a future we can pretend we are planning for, it’s right now. Mobile is it. Mobile mobile mobile mobile. Repeat it, believe it. om mobile padme hum.sms
Saturday’s marvelous Mobile Tech for Social Activism BarCamp made it all real for me. Kudos to Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts program for getting it – they co-hosted the event.

It was an unconference with about a half dozen sessions going simultaneously all the time. A lot of good Twittering captured some of the stuff, and organizer Mobile Active has a great directory of projects and demos. Patrick Meier did a very detailed summary of his day at iRevolution.

So, very briefly, a few things I came away with:
* I want an Android phone, but even more I want to become an Android developer so I can play with things like RapidSMS.
* I love the fact that so much of the interesting work with mobile is in the developing world. America is behind the curve.
* I am finally reading The Promise of Ubiquity: Mobile as Media Platform in the Global South, which John West and my colleagues at Internews Europe had the prescience to put out in December and which I hope will get the media development community thinking and talking more about this.
* As Ethan Zuckerman, always wise, reminded us via Skype, mobile doesn’t do everything – sometimes it needs to be complemented and multiplied by, for example, radio. Also, projects using voice are really interesting.
* Security and privacy are just as important for mobiles as they are on the Internet.
* Wish I were doing this not for a day but a week at Info-Activism Camp. Generally need more unconference and more camp in my life.
* Wonder if all the competition is good or wasteful (apparently it’ll take 3 years till we can fix the idiocy of mobile phone chargers?)
* Somewhat daunted by the thought of a whole new area of geekery to learn how to fake my way through.
* Saw a demo of 3-D video on an iPhone. Funtastic.

Update: Dried fish and mobile phones – read Christine Gorman on her day at M4change.
“SMS till you drop” — mobile phone ad on van in Kampala, Uganda
Uploaded to Flickr on November 24, 2006

In which Pooh discovers Tagging


One more mini-milestone in my blog education: after months of looking for a widget and being afraid to ask, I figured out how to add tags to my blog. Hoping to spend a chunk of today folksonomatizing the blog archives.

While I’m doing that, you can read Christine Gorman’s recent post about Zimbabwe that is not about the elections or the media.

Zimbabwe 1

Originally uploaded by babasteve
Tags: folksonomy Zimbabwe tags

Berkman at 10