What’s New at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media?

author: Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: March 20, 2014,   recorded: November 2009,   views: 1769

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Based on this roster of speakers, the MIT Center for Future Civic Media exists in a constant state of productive ferment, if not adrenaline rush. In a series of brief, timed talks, 13 (!) researchers describe projects to help communities leverage self-knowledge into useful change or even transformation.

Ryan O’Toole is coming up with methods for people to share financial data “in a way that’s respectful of their consumer rights, and also privacy.” His project, Red Ink, allows individuals to aggregate personal data from a variety of financial institutions, and then to share that data to enable collective action.

Nadav Aharony’s work on Sensible Communities involves developing a cross platform toolbox for “close proximity communications,” so people who reside in physically close spaces can pass data to each other “with no need for deep networking knowledge,” and using any type of device. This will allow peers to connect off the grid -- particularly useful for activists worried about surveillance.

With Sourcemap, Matthew Hockenberry is trying to reveal global supply chains for the most ubiquitous products in daily life, such as beds and laptops. Online collaborators contribute to the data bank, mapping parts and services that go into a commodity throughout its lifecycle, enabling an accounting of both carbon emissions and money.

Moderator Chris Csikszentmihalyi presents the Landman Report Card, a tool for helping communities contend with oil and gas companies eager to lease private land for energy drilling. In these deals, a salesman comes by with a pitch and a contract, leaving some property owners to deal with disastrous environmental and health consequences of energy exploration. LandMan is a community- based review site, intended to hold accountable both the salesmen and the companies for whom they work.

Christina Xu has been working on the News Positioning System, helping people organize their online news collections by subject and geography, and aiding users in forming groups for sharing articles.

In Open Park, Florence Gallez is devising an open source news reporting toolbox for “collaborative, synchronized coverage of hyperlocal, national and global news.” This website will feature a single daily topic, covered by reporters from different vantage points, offering a major new opportunity for citizen journalists.

Dharmishta Rood is working on an open source web publishing platform for college newspapers called Populous. It’s a free content management system aimed at college newsrooms, involving both digital tools and social networking, with “seamless” audio and video upload capacities.

With Placeblogger, Lisa Williams is creating the “largest searchable index of local weblogs.” Thousands of online citizen journalist sites keep emerging, and Williams intends to track them and the issues they cover.

Rick Borovy hopes to help Bostonians make their neighborhoods more visitor-friendly, by aiding community groups and local organizations design signs “that call out the key spots in their area.” In another project, Borovy is exploring “microtourism”: enticing groups in a city to visit areas they typically avoid, due to fear, ignorance or ethnic stereotyping. In Framingham, MA, he’s trying to build up interest in the city’s Brazilian neighborhood.

Jay Silver explores the essence of maps in his AwarenessMapping project. He works with small groups in India and other regions to design maps representing the specific world people live in, including man-made objects and nature -- from garbage dumps to things in motion. Final products may involve computers, string, popups and drawings.

Jeff Warren is interested in dynamic mapping in his Cartagen project, an open source set of tools that takes coordinates “and renders them in front of you.” One use: mapping the flow of news articles in real time.

In Virtual Gaza, Josh Levinger has been conducting community mapping in occupied Palestinian territories, allowing civilians to share their experiences of war and putting “a human face on destruction and on reconstruction.”

With Between the Bars, Charlie DeTar hopes to provide prisoners with a simple blogging platform to facilitate communications with the world outside. The notion is that when released from jail, individuals who maintain “an identity as citizens rather than miscreants are less likely to commit more crimes.”

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