The end of foreign correspondence?

Skulls
Taken from Fi & Bryn’s Big Trip

Is the role and relevance of the foreign correspondent now defunct or is it evolving?

Foreign correspondence, I explained, is not as foreign as it used to be. “There, not here,” is over. It is a momentous, overlooked shift in the world: Foreign correspondents no longer cover one place for the exclusive benefit of readers somewhere else. In the Internet age, we cover each place for the benefit of all places, and the reported-on are among the most avid consumers of what we report.

Read this particularly revealing and thought provoking story in the New York Times for a snapshot of how the web is really transforming journalism.

The Times Machine

In Old News is Good News, I covered the efforts of Google to digitise old newspaper archives. The New York Times has a comparable exercise in the form of its Times Machine, which contains 70 years of the NYT’s archives from its first issue on 18 September 1851 through to 30 December 1922.

times-machine

It’s just amazing. Even though the archives in paper form may well outlast the archives in digital form, digitising this information brings it to those of us who will never have the chance of reading or just seeing them otherwise.

Education in Sri Lanka and Sir Arthur C Clarke’s legacy

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene published an article on Groundviews today commemorating the first death anniversary of Sir Arthur C Clarke. In it he notes,

But can imagination and innovation take root unless we break free from the shackles of orthodoxy? For transformative change to happen, we will need to rethink certain aspects of our education, bureaucracy, social hierarchies and culture. Are we willing and able to attempt these?

For a start, no modern day Arthur Clarke is going to be inspired by Sri Lanka’s over-crowded and rigid curriculum or the antiquated educational system that places emphasis on rote learning and passing examinations. Throwing computers into the mix has not really modernised the mindset of those in charge. I was recently stunned to learn how the Education Ministry’s much-taunted SchoolNet web connectivity allows students to access only a handful of pre-approved websites! The babus who decided on this must fit the description in this rhyme Sir Arthur was fond of quoting, referring to a British educator of yesteryear: “I’m the master of this college; what I don’t know isn’t knowledge.”

Sir Arthur knew how closed economies and restrictive cultures stifled innovation — he once said the only memorable invention to emerge from Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe was the Rubik’s cube…

If as the President proclaims 2009 is the year of English and IT, he’ll be hard pressed to come up with answers to the challenges Nalaka poses and safeguard the legacy of Sir Arthur C Clarke by securing scientific inquiry that isn’t framed or undermined by nepotism, corruption and favouritism.

Read Nalaka article in full here.

Western Provincial Council candidates go online: So what?

Duminda SIlva was the first that I know of to launch a website to support his campaign. The bloke looks like Queen Elizabeth on a bad hair day. He has an interesting track record and his (erstwhile) website claims his “foundation” has “donated 9,850 families”, which makes about as much sense as why anyone who would vote for such vile swine. As Indi notes,

Duminda is a repugnant human being who happens to have money. The way he treats women alone is disqualification for public service. And yet he wins. Why? Perhaps because we haven’t offered an alternative. I’m now trying to figure out if/where I’ve registered to vote. I think I’m part of the problem.

So what are the alternatives? Two other candidates from the UNP and JHU have created websites and even entered Facebook.

Continue reading

Ushahidi helps develop Crisis Information Management demo tool

Ushahidi

From the ICT4Peace Foundation came news today of its collaboration with Ushahidi.

The ICT4Peace Foundation, Geneva has mandated Ushahidi to develop an ICT4Peace Crisis Information Management Platform Demonstrator (CIMD), based on Ushahidi’s existing platform with the following features and functionality.

  1. A product that is able to be deployed in the field with a minimum of fuss, on any browser, on mobile phones, over any Internet connection and also store data offline for later synchronization.
  2. A database architecture robust enough to meet the demands of information gathering in UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, based on requirements and necessary forms provided by the ICT4Peace Foundation.
  3. A front end that degrades gracefully on low bandwidth connections, with key information able to be consumed even on dial-up.
  4. An emphasis on accurate location data, which needs to include GPS co-ords based information and integration with UN OCHA’s location and mapping standards. The ICT4Peace Foundation will provide location data.
  5. Strong reporting requirements, incl. automatic generation of reports from designated fields, map plotting, RSS updates, geo-location based alerts, proximity based alerts for specific event categories (on the lines of the Ushahidi DRC implementation )
  6. A comprehensive database architecture that allows for (a) easy and seamless information exchange between field and HQ (b) off-site archival (c) customisation according to context and specific mission requirements (d) offline access to the degree possible (e) strong security (f) multimedia capable

Combined, Ushahidi’s thought leadership in the field of crowd sourced information gathering and the ICT4Peace Foundation’s expert input into the development of the tool, especially in verifying information in a manner that facilitates robust, accurate, timely analysis and information sharing in peacekeeping operations will make the CIMD a useful tool to augment crisis information management practices in the UN, and elsewhere.

After championing Ushahidi at the ICT4Peace Foundation in my capacity as a Special Advisor, I am working closely with another colleague at the Foundation, hugely experienced as a UN peacekeeper to develop the CIMD, which we feel can be a powerful tool to:

  1. Demonstrate the potential of what’s possible today with new media, mobile phones, the web and open source tools
  2. Add value to Ushahidi’s model of crowdsourcing by adding a module / component (call it what you will) of information verification. While Ushahidi has its own ideas in this regard, the Foundation’s initial intended audience will be more manageable, allowing for mechanisms – both technical and processual – to be built into the system that along with requisite training can significantly enhance information gathering and analysis in critical peacekeeping operations.

I met David the extremely affable and unassuming David Kobia in New York recently. Our interactions were far too short, but his presentation on Ushahidi wowed an audience of seasoned UN staff and practitioners from NY, Rome and Geneva – never mind that so few of them could pronounce Ushahidi correctly (I heard Ushahi, Ushidi and Ushadi)! We also talked briefly about the joys and pitfalls of moderating websites within cycles of violence that explored conflict resolution – he with Mashada (an online African community) and I with Groundviews.

Looking forward to blogging the development of this.

Behavioral patterns on Facebook: We are still intimate beings

Facebook

The average male Facebook user with 120 friends:

  • Leaves comments on 7 friends’ photos, status updates, or wall
  • Messages or chats with 4 friends

The average female Facebook user with 120 friends:

  • Leaves comments on 10 friends’ photos, status updates, or wall
  • Messages or chats with 6 friends

The average male Facebook user with 500 friends:

  • Leaves comments on 17 friends’ photos, status updates, or wall
  • Messages or chats with 10 friends

The average female Facebook user with 500 friends:

  • Leaves comments on 26 friends’ photos, status updates, or wall
  • Messages or chats with 16 friends

Read more here.