Movement Building and Activism Archives

November 13, 2003

Attention, Winston Smith

We should never confuse text on the web for text on a printed page. While the accessibility of web text is awfully attractive -- I am, after all, writing this to be read online -- its ephemeral nature means that text on the web can easily be changed or simply disappeared at a website owner's whim. There need be no fingerprints left when a site changes the content of a page. When the changes are made to fix typos or or clean up phrasing, it's generally not a big issue; when the changes to the site eliminate or alter material now deemed to be politically unpalatable, it's reasonable to be concerned.

Sometimes, caches and archives created by search engines become impromptu evidence of changes; if caught soon enough, the original content can be held onto and posted elsewhere. Such is the mandate of the Memory Hole, a website dedicated to preserving things that the original sites decided needed to be disappeared. Often, these are government documents; sometimes, they're pieces from businesses or even newsmagazines.

The Memory Hole is a good example of the kind of transparency-enforcement possible in a networked world. It's far too easy to make documents disappear when they contain uncomfortable material. The one drawback is that the Memory Hole is just one place, one site. A well-placed cease & desist or denial-of-service attack could knock it out. What we need is a way to combine the content of the Memory Hole with the structure of, say, Gnutella...

November 25, 2003


As Alex's post about the Uganda Digital Bookmobile suggests, there's a lot going on in Africa under the radar of the mainstream media. African news that does make headlines is usually confusing, depressing, or both, and is often filtered by governments or aid agencies. So how does one find out what regular people living in Africa think about the world around them?

One increasingly popular answer to this question is "blogs." There are now several dozen webblogs run by people living and working in Africa, and the numbers are growing all the time. BlogAfrica, a new page put together through the cooperation of the news site, the tech support movement Geek Corps, and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, provides a listing of ongoing Africa-focused blogs. They represent a fairly broad overview of political and social perspectives; most are in English, while several are in French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

December 10, 2003

WSIS Kicks Off

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is underway in Geneva. Lots of world leaders giving short speeches about the value of peace and cooperation (and hinting that the Internet would be a much nicer place if only it was under the control of the UN). In many ways, the fact that the declaration of principles and plan of action drafts are only being made available on the WSIS website as Microsoft Word documents sums up the whole thing.

Far more interesting than the conference itself are the various WSIS-related web observers, news sites, and side-conferences which have sprung up. My favorite is a particularly interesting side-conference simultaneous to WSIS called the World Forum on Communication Rights. It describes itself as an independent civil-society led initiative, focusing on demonstrating, documenting, and developing a coherent articulation of universal communication rights.

The World Summit on the information Society seems determined to turn a blind eye to many issues central to an information society that puts people first. Who owns information and knowledge? Who controls the production process? Who rules the circulation of knowledge, and in whose interests? Who is able to use it, and for what ends?

Many believe that communication must be at the core of any information society — some call for a communicating society. They believe that securing communication rights should for all be high on all our agendas. Yet the concept of communication rights is new. What do electronic surveillance, concentration of ownership of media, the failure to meaningfully address the Digital Divide, the privatisation of knowledge in the public domain, and the apparent non-existence of the poor in mainstream media have in common?

They all reflect the growing importance of communication to society, culture, politics and the economy, and an attempt by powerful governments and corporations to control them for their own ends. Asserting communication rights not only a practical response to these threats, but also a positive effort to realise the huge potential of old and new communication media and technologies for all.

I like these guys. They get it in a way that the WSIS doesn't.

Information about the WSIS can be found in various places., a group of young video journalists from India, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay, are providing daily video reports from WSIS (requires RealVideo; video starts playing immediately). The Daily Summit gives live coverage from the conference, engagingly written, along with links to other WSIS-related sites. The writer of KnowProse, a blog with a focus on Free Software and digital freedom, isn't at the summit, but has plenty of interesting observations anyway.

Finally, if you have something you really want to say to the summit, but can't get to Geneva in time, check out the Hello World Project, which will allow you to have a brief (<100 word) message written in laser across a mountainside in Geneva (as well as on buildings in Mumbai and New York, and a hillside in Rio).

December 12, 2003

Weblog Strategies for Non-Profits

Jon Stahl's journal pointed me towards a terrific piece from October of this year at Radio Free Blogistan called Weblog Strategies for Nonprofits, written by Christian Crumlish. In the essay, Crumlish goes over some of the ways in which a small non-profit organization can make use of the growing power of weblog tools, such as Moveable Type (used by WorldChanging). His advice is well-worth considering if you're running a non-profit and want to figure out how to communicate your message better.

For people already running blogs, some of his observations will seem unsurprising. But for organizations still getting accustomed to having a relatively static website, the dynamism, voice, and flexibility of the blog format can be revolutionary. One of the founding ideas for WorldChanging is that the intersection of social software and non-profit activism may be enormously fruitful. Crumlish's essay provides a straightforward blueprint for how this can happen.

December 15, 2003

Information and Modern Politics

The Washington Post published this last Sunday one of the more interesting pieces on current politics I've seen in quite awhile. In an article awkwardly entitled "Q: What will happen when a national political machine can fit on a laptop? A: See below," Everett Ehrlich argues that the rise of political parties was due in part to the need to have a massive organizational structure to handle the various manifestations of information required to push candidates. With the spread of the Internet, which drives the cost of information towards zero, such massive bureaucracies are no longer the most efficient way of accessing, distributing, or manipulating information. A small, heavily-networked team can be far more effective, politically.

He cites the Howard Dean operation as the key example of this:

For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy.

It's an interesting argument, one which I've heard in various forms numerous times over the last decade. When I worked as a consultant in the mid-1990s, the assertion that small, nimble, 'mammal' companies were going to eat the collective lunches of big, lumbering, business dinosaurs was so common as to be a cliché. While that certainly stroked the egos of managers of small companies and scared managers of large corporations into looking at that Internet thingie, it wasn't too accurate a prediction. Most big companies seemed to spend the last decade getting even bigger, devouring the nimble mammals and slower-moving dinosaurs alike.

The notion that small & networked can be at least as effective as big & mighty becomes less amusing when we look at the arena of modern global politics. Warnings about distributed, networked attacks didn't just happen around 9/11; thoughtful strategists were sounding off about the possibility back in the mid-1990s. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt's 1996 book, The Advent of Netwar (available as PDFs for each chapter), remains one of the best introductions to the topic.

Ehrlich paints a fascinating picture of how the use of the web can and will shape electoral politics. I think that many of his observations about how Dean's campaign functions are on-target. His scenarios of how the big parties will respond to web-enable insurgencies are less convincing, however. Big corporations didn't hold firm against the rise of smaller companies by simply battening down, twisting rules to make life hard for the non-dominant firms; they also lifted good ideas wholesale from the up-and-comers (sometimes by buying them, sometimes not), took advantage of their comparative strengths (in money, in global access, in ability to absorb losses), and figured out how to play the game like small companies without having to divest themselves of their size and power.

It remains to be seen whether modern political parties will prove to be too sclerotic and hidebound to learn from networked insurgent movements. They may simply be so big and entrenched that they are able to withstand passing trends in Internet politics. If Ehrlich is right, though, and campaigns like Dean's represent a fundamental shift in American politics, the choices for traditional parties are few: either ignore the new forces and wither or embrace them and be transformed.

March 6, 2004


WorldChanging ally Andrew Zolli just posted in his Z+ Partners blog about Freecycle, a worldwide network of people giving stuff away. As Andrew puts it, Freecycle combines "the Gift Economy, Sustainable Thinking, and Craigs List." All you do is sign up for the Freecycle list for your hometown (there are currently over 250 cities involved, and the site has instructions for starting your own list); everything posted to the list is free for the taking. They could have called it a "bottom-up collaborative material recycling and reuse network," but "Freecycle" is a bit less clumsy.

April 2, 2004

Scientists Against Global Poverty

One of the key underlying principles of WorldChanging is the belief that the successful creation of a sustainable world for all of us requires moving forward, not looking backwards. Advances in science and technology are critical for our success; scientists are key players in the growing network of worldchangers. That's why it's so gratifying to see examples of scientists who get it, who understand the role they play in trying to change the world for the better.

On March 29th and 30th, scientists from around the world gathered at the Earth Institute at Columbia University for the State of the Planet 04 conference, subtitled "Mobilizing the Sciences to Fight Global Poverty." Speakers included Jeffrey Sachs, Edward O. Wilson, and Mary Robinson. Working sessions covered issues of energy, food, water, and health.

The site includes video and audio excerpts of speeches and sessions, and will soon have full transcripts, video, and added material in the archives. It also has a few select quotes from the different speakers. The selections from Edward O. Wilson stood out for me, in particular:

"John Sawhill, the late president of the Nature Conservancy and a friend of mine, once said, 'A society is defined not just by what it creates but by it refuses to destroy,' and that's true.

"Altogether, the 21st Century is destined to be called the 'Century of the Environment.' It will, I and many others believe, be seen as a time that either we put our house in order and settle down before we wreck the planet, or suffer the consequences.

"I believe we will settle down, because as Abba Eban said during the 1967 war, 'When all else fails men turn to reason.'

"Conversely, the natural environments where most of the biodiversity hangs on can not survive the press of land-hungry people who have nowhere else to go. This problem can be solved. Resources to do it exist. There are many reasons to achieve that goal, not least our own security.

"A world civilization able to envision God and the afterlife, to embark on the colonization of space, will surely find the way to save the integrity of this magnificent planet and the life it harbors because quite simply it's the right thing to do, and ennobling to our species.

"We will be judged far into the future, as far I think as any of us can imagine by what we now choose to save."

At the end of the event, the conferees released a statement calling for action, and emphasizing the role science has in ensuring a better future for everyone on the planet.

Both rich and poor countries must heed the lessons of science and foster the benefits of under-utilized and yet-to-be developed technologies. We must support increased national and international scientific and technological efforts to achieve technological breakthroughs in energy systems, food production, health care, and water management. Not only must we make a special effort to address the technological needs of the poorest, as these are often neglected, but also to build and sustain scientific capacity in the poorest countries.

The statement in full is powerful and detailed, and well-worth reading, and includes specific recommendations in each of the four broad areas (energy, food, water, and health) covered by the conference. I strongly encourage you to take a look at it.

April 7, 2004

Buying Up the Right to Pollute

When the US Environmental Protection Agency runs its annual auction for sulfur dioxide pollution allowances, polluters aren't the only organizations allowed to bid. As it turns out, anyone can -- including environmental activists who want to hold onto the allowances to prevent their use. Wired has a fascinating article about this today.

Allowance auctions force polluters to bid for the right to emit a given amount of SO2 (each allowance is worth one ton) over the course of a year. Companies that produce more SO2 as the year progresses have to buy allowances from other, cleaner, companies, reduce their emissions, or face EPA fines. Owners of SO2 allowances who choose not to sell their rights therefore keep that much SO2 out of the atmosphere. The Acid Rain Retirement Fund, based at the University of Southern Maine, actively purchases and "retires" pollution allowances.

Surprisingly, cost of each one-ton-allowance isn't all that high.

John Millett, a spokesman for the EPA, said the organization is not surprised that private citizens from environmental groups have taken part. "It was part of the market," he said. "We're treating emissions like a commodity that can be traded by anyone, just like any other commodity. It's part of the innovation of this program."

Bidders at this year's auction shelled out on average $272.82 for each 2004-vintage allowance. Allowances are usable at any time during or after their vintage. The price reflects an increase of nearly $100 from last year's auction of 2003-vintage allowances.

The auctions are held annually, but blocks of 2,500 allowances are regularly traded on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Given that over 250,000 allowances are sold each year, it's unlikely that a single environmental group could corner the market. Nonetheless, it's exciting to see the mechanisms designed for the convenience of polluters used in this way by organizations like ARRF. "Acid rain retirement" may not clear the air completely, but each ton bought and retired is one fewer ton of sulfur dioxide in the air, and that doesn't hurt.

More info:Professor Michael Hamilton, who runs ARRF, wrote to let us know that donations to the project can be made online through

The latest ARRF information release can be found in the extended entry...

Continue reading "Buying Up the Right to Pollute" »

April 16, 2004

Think Locally, Act Globally

Salon magazine has a short but interesting article up called "Think locally, act globally," discussing an attempt to bring the internet to a remote village in Mexico. The story isn't always encouraging or neat, but it's well-worth reading. (If you're not a Salon subscriber, you'll be asked to click through an ad before getting to the article.)

The presence of Morales, the establishment of a municipio office in Yelapa, the appearance of actual police here, plus Yelapa's increasing Internet presence, all attest to the new influence of the outside world on the town. Whether it has the political skill, and influence, to keep local control is questionable. The community leaders are well aware of the effects of development on other Mexican locales that have become tourist centers. Their control of the land and their traditional political autonomy, as part of an indigenous community, give the locals some protection. Nevertheless, Yelapa politicians have frequently been bought in the past, and the land has become very valuable. In addition, the indigenous Chacala community that Yelapa belongs to is in debt to the federal government for unpaid taxes on the land it leases to tourist developers. Urrutia thinks that the combination of fiscal mismanagement and rising crime and drug problems may create a wedge for outsiders to gain control of community land.

As this issue is being decided, Yelapa's people will go on wiring up as fast as they can, and more tourists will be attracted to it from all over the globe. Already, its new commercial villas promise all the comforts of home, rather than jungle romance in a thatched hut. It is hard to say what the impact of the first neon sign will be. Given Yelapa's small size and skimpy economy, the coming of electricity and digital technology may cause very fast growth and make it a frontier boomtown. At the same time, projects like the computer school and the youth center, and the town's new political sophistication in dealing with Mexican governments, rather than relying on its weakening protection as an indigenous community, offer Yelapa some way of interacting with the network that has annexed it to the global economy.

April 20, 2004

SUV Challenge

As much as many of us don't like it, Americans love SUVs, believing them to be safer than passenger cars (even though statistics say otherwise). Those of us who look at giant sport utility vehicles on the highway and see nothing more than many added tons of annual emissions have few choices: we can hector and lecture SUV drivers, nagging them to change their sinful ways; we can simply hope that the SUV trend will eventually go away; or we can try to change the SUVs to make them less harmful. While the hectoring and lecture approach may be satisfying, and the waiting for market trends to shift approach may be simplest, the attempt to change SUVs approach is likely the smartest. And we are all about smart responses here...

So is the Union of Concerned Scientists. They've started the "SUV Solutions" website, which takes a double-barrelled shot at unsafe, environmentally unsound SUVs. Both of their approaches are worth taking a closer look at -- and participating in.

Firstly, they are trying to get at least 50,000 Americans to send email (or, better still, paper mail or a phone call) to Jeffery Runge, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official reviewing public comments on SUV safety regulations. Right now, SUVs are treated by law as "light trucks," not automobiles, meaning that safety and emissions regulations are comparatively lax. The UCS form letter (which you can readily personalize) is fairly tame, as it doesn't suggest specific changes, only that the changes that do emerge should not push people towards buying trucks, encourage manufacturers to make vehicles heavier, or reduce fuel efficiency in the name of safety.

Closing the loopholes that let SUVs avoid the stricter automobile regulations would go a long way towards making SUVs better vehicular citizens.

The typical industry response to such demands is to claim that it's impossible to make SUVs that can meet these requirements with current technology, or in forms that consumers would want to buy. The second arm of the UCS approach is to create a blueprint for a sport utilty vehicle which gets much better mileage, produces far fewer emissions, is safer in accidents, and still provides the size that consumers seem to slaver over -- all using off-the-shelf technology. They call the SUV design the "Guardian" model, and claim that adding its features to current model SUVs would add around $750 to vehicle costs.

The Guardian design won't make an SUV competitive with a Prius or Insight when it comes to mileage, but that's okay; when the best midsize SUV gets a whopping 25 mpg (the Saturn Vue) -- and most others get far worse -- even mileage in the 30-35 mpg range is almost revolutionary.

May 2, 2004

Public Eye

The quality of unclassified satellite surveillance has improved dramatically over the past decade; what is available to civilians these days either freely or with a moderate price would have astounded even intelligence workers of a few decades ago. One of the best examples of this is the "Public Eye" project at, a Washington DC think-tank trying to expand the public discourse about military and national security issues. The "Picture of the Week" pages have carried satellite photos of newsworthy locations since April of 2001 (it's fascinating to see the improvement of available satellite images even over the last three years).

This week's picture is of Ryongchon, North Korea, site of the huge train blast on April 22. Or, more accurately, this week's set of pictures: the before and after shots show the profound devastation unleashed by the accident, and context shots show the crater, damage to surrounding buildings, maps, and other satellite scans of the region.

These images underscore the increasing power of non-government organizations to take advantage of "Open Source Intelligence," the practice of using materials available to any citizen to build a substantive understanding of an intelligence target. There's nothing stopping environmental activist groups from using satellite images to map pollution flows and clear-cutting, for example, or human rights groups imaging refugee camps and military movements. They just may not realize yet that such feats are now within their power.

May 10, 2004

The Participatory Panopticon vs. The Pentagon

Digital cameras may have had their Rodney King moment this last week, with the pictures taken of prisoner abuses by American troops in Iraq, sent via email around the world. When coupled with digital technology, that three-step process -- See, Snap, Send -- becomes revolutionary action. Whether the people taking the pictures did so out of a sense of outrage, a desire to document a moment, or misguided amusement, the result is the same: the knowledge that anyone, anywhere, with a digital camera and a network connection has enormous power, perhaps enough to alter the course of a war or the policies of the most powerful nation on Earth.


During his testimony, Rumsfeld made clear his exasperation with dealing with a "radioactive" scandal, when images shot by a digital camera can be beamed around the world almost instantaneously by e-mail or stored by the hundreds on a CD.

"We're functioning ... in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon," Rumsfeld said.

This should come as no surprise. It is increasingly easy and inexpensive to take digital images and video and send them off over the Internet or wireless phone networks; it is correspondingly increasingly difficult to prevent visual records of events from slipping loose. Cameraphones pose a particularly knotty problem, as it's a simple matter to send a picture off immediately upon its being taken -- there's no film to destroy or memory card to erase. It's sometimes difficult to tell without a close inspection whether a mobile phone has a camera or not. The proliferation of small, easily concealed and readily networked digital cameras is a headache for those trying to keep some degree of privacy in the world and a nightmare for those trying to keep some degree of secrecy in it.

The network-connected digital camera and the wireless cameraphone are the weapons of the Second Superpower.

May 12, 2004

Pens to Afghanistan

It's easy to forget how important the simple things can be. Terry Welch, who used to run the Nitpicker blog, now works in Afghanistsan. He sent a message to supporters and friends, which is now being spread throughout the blogosphere:


As many of you know, I am currently in the apolitical position of Army public affairs specialist in Afghanistan. I only recently arrived, after waiting for 2.5 months at Ft. Riley, Kansas, but that's another issue. I'm writing you all today because I'm going to take many of you up on your offers and rudely ask a favor of those who made no offer.

When I first mentioned on my blog, Nitpicker, that I was going to be deployed, a large number of you asked how you could help me, what I would need for Afghanistan. The truth is, there's not much. However, I just went on my first mission with a civil affairs group and found a way you might be able to help me out.

It seems that the children of Afghanistan want nothing more than they want a pen.

It was explained to me that the villages through which I traveled (near Kandahar, where I'm based) are so poor that a pen is like a scholarship to these children. They desperately want to learn but, without a pen, they simply won't. It's a long story. I won't bore you with it. Trust me, though, when I say that it would be a big deal if even a few of you could put up the call for pens for me. Anyone interested in helping out could either send some directly to me or go to these sites and send them, where you can find them for as cheap as $.89 a dozen.

You can send them to me at this address:

Terry L. Welch
105th MPAD
Kandahar Public Affairs Office
APO AE 09355

Seems like a good cause to me.

(Via Atrios)

Stefan Jones notes, in the comments:

Found in another Blog comment thread:

'This reminds me of the BluePack project the Academy for Educational Development (AED) ran a while back:

They solicited $10 contributions, each of which purchased a pack for an Afghan child which "contains basic education supplies (pens, pencils, colored pencils, eraser, sharpener, six paper notebooks, ruler, chalk, chalkboard and a coloring book). The pack also contains a thermos so children can bring clean water from home."'

This is something I could feel a bit less cynical about.

For one thing, they had a footprint and a plan for distribution. This Terry . . . really, if the level of support is as big as it seems, his entire platoon is going to need weeks to offload all those donations.

Another (from the FAQ):
"The BluePacks and the school supplies are being produced in the region, and plans call for them to be assembled by Afghan war widows in order to provide employment opportunities."

May 19, 2004

Advice for Energy/Environment Activists

The combination of high gas prices, The Day After Tomorrow, and an already-active political season means that there will be plenty of opportunities for energy and environment activists to get some media play. Network-Centric Advocacy has a great article listing some short guidelines for making sure you get your point out there. The article is brief and well-worth reading as a whole, but here are the bullet points:

  • Develop your talking points. Make sure you know what you want to say and can say it in short, sound-byte-ready phrases.
  • Advocacy groups must get ready. If you're working on non-energy-related projects, shelve them to take advantage of the moment.
  • Prepare for success. (This is really crucial!) Be ready to take advantage of people in the media actually wanting to listen to what you have to say.
  • Rally your speakers. Be prepared to "smart mob" when opportunities arise, such as call-in radio shows about high gas prices.
  • Work the opportunity. Don't let the moment slide by.

"Perfect storm" moments like this don't come around very often. Take advantage of the situation!

July 1, 2004

Catching Up (Second Superpower Edition)

Continuing with the categorized catching-up entries...

  • Jon Stahl points us to an article at Network-Centered Advocacy describing ways in which networked advocacy groups can counter PR efforts when engaged in corporate pressure campaigns. Think of it as "reverse engineering" the corporate efforts: you can't effectively counter them unless you understand how they work. Some of the suggestions are common-sense, but some are novel -- and all take advantage of the immediacy and interconnectedness of the Internet medium.

  • Matt Stoller at the Blogging of the President site has a thoughtful essay on the value of blogs as communication and information vehicles. He asserts that the real value of blogs is not in the raw number of eyeballs viewing the pages, but in the web of conversation which can form around given subjects and controversies. He also is careful to note the ways in which blogs are limited, and the larger digital ecosystem (of listservs, email, IM, etc.) in which they live. He comments that subject niches which appear empty now (and often leading to demands that existing bloggers start talking about them) will undoubtedly be filled in due course, as the Internet and the world of blogging grow. He mentions the environment as a subject woefully devoid of blogs; perhaps he needs to be pointed to some good ones...

  • Social Design Notes asks "What is Asset Mapping?" -- and answers its own question. Asset Mapping is a community development methodology which uses design and graphics tools to map the existing capabilities and resources available for development, organizational strengths, relationships, and community members. The goal is to trigger new ideas and approaches by visualizing relationships in a novel way (this is something that corporate consulting groups have done, in various forms, for a few years now). Social Design Notes has some interesting observations about the technique; if you have any interest in community-scale development, check it out.
  • November 1, 2004

    The Participatory Panopticon at the Polls

    The outcome of tomorrow's election in the US may be decided by cell phones. I don't just mean the percentage of voters who, by using a mobile phone as their primary voice number, don't factor into the pre-election polls. I mean the percentage of voters who carry a cameraphone and are willing to use it. As we've discussed here before, network-connected digital cameras and wireless cameraphones are fundamental tools of the second superpower.

    Republicans and Democrats alike fear the possibility of disruptions at polling places driving some voters away before getting a chance to vote. Protesters, armed "guards," discriminatory voter challenges -- all have the possibility of intimidating or even actively preventing voters from casting their ballots. Such problems are by no means new. What is new is the ability of individual citizens to document voter harassment, and even to let others know about it almost instantly.

    Continue reading "The Participatory Panopticon at the Polls" »

    April 22, 2005

    Annotated Manifestos

    tw2be.jpgSomewhere between the one-way relationship of modern political conventions (where party platforms are on display, but never debated) and the collaboration-über-alles philosophy of party platform wikis (where altering the language of the platform is as easy as... well, as easy as wikis ever really are) lies TW2BE is an experimental website designed by Mark Simpkins, Richard Pope and Gavin Bell, allowing visitors to annotate the platform statements of each of the three major UK parties. Using standard blogging software, TW2BE inserts comment links for each platform sub-section; as a result, the reader can go through the platform statements without interruption initially, then go back and see how others have reacted.

    The verdict? "Wonderful potential, needs work."

    TW2BE explicitly calls itself a "beta test," and it's clearly an idea in evolution. The idea of annotating the platforms can be a good one, as both critical comments (as most on TW2BE currently are) and supportive evidence can be posted. At worst, it will be another online shouting match; ideally, it will be an opportunity to explore how well different parties state their cases.

    While the comment system allows for extended discussions for each point, I'm not sure that a blogging app is really the best mechanism. The content is static, but the comments change frequently -- but the comments are hidden by text links. Nonetheless, Mark Simpkins calls it "another step in opening up the whole democratic and participatory process." It's a work in progress, to be sure, but one with definite potential.

    June 21, 2005

    Adopt A Chinese Blog

    adoptachineseblog.jpgThis idea is so brilliant it gives me chills.

    Blogging is popular in China, enough so that the government is paying more attention now to what people say on them. Numerous blogs have been shut down, either from government pressure or just by Chinese host providers fearful of its users possibly breaking the law. In addition, an April 2005 law mandates that all non-profit website owners must register their sites with their real personal information. The recent revelation that Microsoft was censoring various terms in the blogging service they offer in China only added to the fear that free speech on the Chinese web would be harder and harder to find. Some Chinese bloggers managed to put their websites on offshore servers, but the language and cost issues are prohibitive for many.

    Adopt A Chinese Blog is an end-run around official censorship. How? By making the hosting of Chinese blogs a distributed, collaborative process:

    Continue reading "Adopt A Chinese Blog" »

    September 23, 2005

    Zero Net Energy Habitat for Humanity

    1332_HabHumanDenver_final.jpgHabitat for Humanity is one of those organizations that doesn't make a lot of noise, but does a lot of good. Focusing on the construction of homes for the poor, Habitat for Humanity uses volunteer labor and (usually) simple designs. The homes built by Habitat are decent but utilitarian, tending to be typical wood-frame structures, meeting but rarely exceeding code guidelines. They're hardly places in which one would expect to find abundant green design.

    And yet we now have at least one. A number of sustainability blogs have pointed to an article at Renewable Energy Access, describing a home built by the Habitat for Humanity group in Denver, Colorado, sponsored by the US Department of Energy. The "Net Zero Energy Habitat for Humanity House" is meant as a model home for what comfortable and affordable green housing could look like. Not all of the components are cutting-edge, but they're an excellent example of how current green home technologies can be used:

    Continue reading "Zero Net Energy Habitat for Humanity" »

    October 3, 2005

    Pandemic Flu Awareness Week

    pfawdate.jpgIt may not be getting many headlines just yet, but H5N1 -- Avian Flu -- is likely to be one of the bigger stories of the next few years. There are signs that H5N1 is becoming easier to transmit from person to person. As a result, Dr. David Nabarro, heading up the UN's response to the Avian Flu, has projected the very real possibility of 150 million people dying this winter from an Avian flu pandemic.

    150 million people.

    But such a scenario is by no means fore-ordained. There's much we can do now to head off a global pandemic. The most important step we can take is to raise awareness -- not to panic everyone, but to enable the planning and preparation necessary to respond appropriately when a potential pandemic strikes. Even if H5N1 burns out quickly and never becomes a global threat, it's hardly the only candidate; the more we do now, the better off we are for whatever does eventually hit.

    To this end, WorldChanging ally Flu Wiki is spearheading an effort to make October 3-9 Pandemic Flu Awareness Week. They're asking bloggers and other online folks to work to increase public consciousness of the risk of pandemic:

    Continue reading "Pandemic Flu Awareness Week" »

    December 14, 2005

    Disaster Communication

    When it comes to disaster communications, what you say is as important as how you say it. Researchers at Temple University's Center for Preparedness, Research, Education and Practice (C-PREP), speaking today at the American Public Health Association meeting, argue in favor of points that we've made here before: transparency is key to successful disaster communication; and people are as likely or more likely to get information from non-traditional sources, so official communications can't rely solely on official outlets.

    [Public Health Professor Sarah] Bass defines effective risk communications as timely, relevant and true.

    Continue reading "Disaster Communication" »

    February 1, 2006

    Digital Witness

    aburazr_sm.jpgFounded in 1992 by musician Peter Gabriel, Witness supplies video cameras and communication gear to allow people around the world to document abuses of human rights, partnering with human rights groups in over 50 countries. Witness attempts to create pressure for change by shining a light on injustice around the world. The people who take up cameras in the name of human dignity are remarkably brave, facing in many cases torture and death for the "crime" of revealing the truth. But the Witness cameras stand alone; their only connection to the rest of the world is via the hand delivery of video tape.

    That will soon change.

    In an interview at BusinessWeek online, Gabriel and Witness Executive Director Gillian Caldwell reveal that the organization intends to open up an online portal allowing people to send in video clips from digital cameras and cameraphones -- that is, if they can get the funding.

    Are people already sending tapes or images from mobile phones?
    Gabriel: We haven't had the structure to do that. That's the next challenge.
    Caldwell: Implementation will be in the next 12 months. That's what we're shooting for, although we need financial support.
    How will you keep control of the content?
    Gabriel: We hope there will be some sort of self-regulating system. People, in order to get content uploaded, would have to rate three or four other pieces of material [on the site]. My country [England] is the most observed country in the world. I think the average person gets filmed eight times a day. The aim here is to turn the cameras back.

    Continue reading "Digital Witness" »

    February 6, 2006

    Biology Direct

    vary_corals_186.jpgThe growing acceptance of the "open access" scientific publishing model has made possible further experiments in the world of academic literatures. Open access publication makes scientific work available at no cost, in order to further the spread of knowledge and ideas among communities -- such as scientists in the developing world -- often locked out of cutting-edge science due to limited resources. The non-profit Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals are perhaps the best-known open access effort, but now BioMed Central -- which had sought to combine open access with commercial publication -- has embarked on an arguably even more radical experiment. Biology Direct, a newly-launched series of biology journals, combines the open access model with a new, and very open, system of peer review (PDF): the reviews are published alongside the articles, with no anonymity -- and no rejection, even if the reviews are uniformly negative. (The author may choose to pull his or her article in such a case, of course.)

    Everything in Biology Direct will be completely in the open: the author will invite the referees without any mediation by the Editors or Publisher, and the reviews will be signed and published together with the article. The idea is that any manuscript, even a seriously flawed one, that is interesting enough for three respected scientists to invest their time in reading and reviewing will do more good than harm if published -- along with candid reviews written by those scientists. Under the Biology Direct rules, an author is free to solicit as many members of the Editorial Board as s/he has patience for. The philosophy behind this approach is that what really matters is not how many scientists are uninterested in a paper (or even assess it negatively, which could be the underlying reason for declining to review) but that there are some qualified members of the scientific community who do find it worthy of attention.

    Continue reading "Biology Direct" »

    About Movement Building and Activism

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to WC Archive in the Movement Building and Activism category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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