ICT for Peacebuilding

Operationalizing Peace Operations Reform

Clearing the Decks After a Year of Reviews: Operationalizing Peace Operations Reform, organised by ZIF, the Centre for International Peace Operations, was held from 25 – 26 February just outside of Berlin. Agenda here.

I was asked to make a presentation on New Technologies and New Media as it related to UN peacekeeping. The presentation can be found below, and in large part, it is based on the submission made at re:publica 2015 on The future of tech and peacekeeping.

Download the presentation as a PDF here.

 

The workshop also employed a talented graphic artist to visualise the presentations.

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ICTs in general

From hate and harm to aid and advocacy: Angelo Fernando’s ‘Chat Republic’

Cross-posted from Groundviews.

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Angelo Fernando, in addition to being a long-standing columnist in the Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD) is also the author of a new book, Chat Republic: How Social Media Drives Us To Be Human 1.0 in a Web 2.0 World.

We begin our conversation on matters digital and online by looking at how Angelo’s father in particular networked socially in the world of brick and mortar, and how this shaped the author’s take on online social networking and new media. After going into how Angelo started to get interested in new media, and web based communications and communities, we talk about his take on media literacy, and its importance today.

We then explore, based on a particular section in Chat Republic, the author’s own journey in using social media, from the time just after the Asian tsunami when his blog became a virtual clearinghouse of information, to the more recent advances and platforms he covers in the book. Flagging what at the time of the recording were unprecedented social uprisings in Turkey, we go on to talk about the current state of the debate on professional and amateur journalists, and whether this really even matters anymore.

Given what is a genuinely disturbing rise in online hate speech (in Sri Lanka, but more generally around the world), Angelo then goes into how he perceives the ‘Chat Republic’ can and should address this issue, and why media literacy in important in this regard.

We then talk about the culture of what can be called over-sharing, and how a tsunami of multimedia and geo-referenced content from mobile and web based apps, platforms and services stand, in large part, to be irrevocably lost and also owned by corporations to often reuse as they see fit. Confessing that he actually writes letters on paper, Angelo then talks about how he approaches the art of writing.

Towards the end, we talk about PRISM, and the mind-boggling revelations by Edward Snowdon (who at the time of recording the programme was in Hong Kong) which all point to a very disturbing state of affairs regarding privacy on the web and Internet in general, and social media platforms in particular. Angelo shares his thoughts on what has recently come to light over the nature and extent of surveillance in countries like the US and UK.

Our conversation ends by Angelo sharing some thoughts about where he wants to take Chat Republicand whether it will be made available in Tamil and Sinhala.

ICTs in general

From paper to pixels: News today

Yet something of the old media world is deeply missed. The serendipitous discovery of news and information, for example. We all now live in so-called ‘filter bubbles’, consuming information either curated by us, or for us. Some of this curation is human, which offers agency and choice to the few who wish to really engage with difference and divergent opinion. Some of this curation is technical, based on invisibly cultivated metrics of our online behaviour and web browsing habits. This is potentially more dangerous, because there’s no off switch – we believe we are freely exposed to information, but in fact, the search results, suggestions, featured feeds, syndicated content and web highlights are all crafted carefully to match, inter alia, our socio-economic, political, religious bias and geo-location. Where it was previously the role of the journalist to craft the salient points of a story and the sole prerogative of the Editor to curate the day’s news and its presentation, sophisticated algorithms snaking their way through the low monotone of server farms are the new, pervasive determinant in what we read.

That’s an excerpt from my regular column published today that looks at how in my own life, the consumption of news has changed dramatically from when I was a child.

Read the full article here. I go on to note that,

Consuming and generating media almost purely in digital form has some advantages. You can’t burn down a website. You can’t kill a pseudonym, or abduct an idea that goes viral online. Our children are already part of one billion people on Facebook alone – nearly the population of India on a single online social network with a news economy beyond any one government to regulate or censor. Christopher Hitchens famously noted that he became a journalist because he did not want to rely on newspapers for information. Digital media platforms make this increasingly possible for lesser mortals.

But for those who grew up with it, the newspaper is missed, and always picked up.

ICTs in general

Blogging as a journalist, woman and individual in Sri Lanka

One or two years ago my friend Tarika Wickremeratne delivered a presentation on blogging to a group of female journalists in Sri Lanka that I had spoken to previously. I champion blogging in Sri Lanka for many reasons, and the empowerment of women being one of them. Over the past 10 years I have spoken to a number of women’s collectives in urban centres as well as remote villages on how new media, including mobile phones, can enhance their livelihoods and lives by enabling them to produce content that they feel is most important to produce. It is hardly a revolutionary idea, though in many parts of the island, the idea of a community owned and run SMS based news and information service, led by women, often inspires them to explore how new media can raise and discuss issues that mainstream media and even provincial journalism are rarely interested in covering, or cannot cover.

Tarika’s presentation speaks to this and needs to be read alongside her slide notes.

ICTs in general

3 day training course on new media

I recently conducted a 3 day course on new media for students, coming from academia as well as mainstream journalism, at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. In 2010, I did a similar course for the SLCJ Faculty and senior administration staff to build internal capacity to engage with new media.

Though this outline gives a framework for the technologies and issues that I cover, in actual fact, after my initial presentation, the delivery and content respond to what I ascertain are actual needs and challenges faced by those in the classroom. I teach largely in Sinhala and make the class environment as interactive as possible, which is not something many are used to, since lectures in Sri Lanka are often thought of as sterile environments to take down notes and stay silent. Each student has access to a computer and SLCJ encourages them to bring their laptops if they have one.

Far more than web technologies, I teach them new media strategies to deal with censorship, online safety and security basics, minimising risk, content management and disseminating strategies using cloud services and a range of other platforms and tools, including VOIP, web based file transfer and field based multimedia production tools for mobiles. So it’s a large spectrum we cover, and because it is based on class discussion and pegged to real world challenges, including censorship and violence, three days goes by in a flash.

I also bring to bear experience from setting up and curating Groundviews and sites like Websites At Risk, which help the class understand though real world challenges I have faced how best to use new media to bear witness to whatever issues they are passionate about, ranging from sports to human rights violations.

ICTs in general

Groundviews for iPad: Lessons for online media

One of the advantages of using a robust and recognised content management system for an online media initiative, such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, is that unlike a custom tailored solution, it is able to leverage the innovation of third party developers. Onswipe is a key example of this. Developed for and now available on every single wordpress.com blog, and also available as a plugin for any self-hosted WordPress site, it renders the site content on Apple’s iPad look very nice. Visually akin to the stunning Flipboard, Onswipe is not an app and relies of HTML5 to render site content on the iPad.

Groundviews has from 2006 run on WordPress. A few days ago, we enabled Onswipe on it, making it the first media website in Sri Lanka to tailor its content to iPads, a few days after we launched a native iPhone 4 app for the site. As noted in a blog post,

GV iPad app

After our launch of Sri Lanka’s as well as South Asia’s first citizen journalism app for Apple’s iPhone 4, we are now pleased to launch a version of the site tailored for Apple’s iPad. Leveraging Onswipe for WordPress, the site content now viewed on an iPad 1 or iPad 2 is beautifully rendered and provides easy access to share content through Twitter, Facebook as well as via email.

Click here for more screenshots of Groundviews running on the iPad.

Onswipe on the original iPad has some ways to go before it becomes as polished as Flipboard. It’s still not very configurable, and compared to the smooth transitions and animations of a native app, the HTML5 processing takes its toll on page load and response times on the original iPad, though this may be better on the iPad 2 with its dual core processor and far better graphics. That said, the content is much more readable and even comments are presented in a very accessible manner.

There are bugs. HTML5 video embeds (from Vimeo) don’t work. Site navigation is very rudimentary. The plugin does not give any option to tweak the navigation options / menu items it automatically sets up. Some pages scroll and load with a lot of screen flicker. Scrolling takes time. Airprint functionality is not available. There is no search functionality, and that which is built into a self-hosted site does not always work.

Onswipe promises many improvements in the future,

“The full Onswipe platform will come with a vast number of themes, support a ton of touch devices, and other sources such as twitter, flickr, and youtube. There’s also some secret sauce we’re working on for social interactions across all Onswipe powered sites.”

The reason Groundviews embraces plugins like Onswipe is that I believe journalism’s content delivery has to match the consumption patterns of consumers. It also showcases what can be done using standards based web technologies to promote compelling content through engaging design – form follows function, and allows for more persistent engagement with and sharing of what is published. The news industry in Sri Lanka is outrageously ignorant of best practices on the web. Without exception, all major mainstream and well as many citizen journalism websites in the country demonstrate so many flaws in design that it reflects an approach to online news as an adjunct to what is published in newsprint. Instead of a bad facsimile of what is in print, Onswipe demonstrates what is possible, for zero cost, when web media is developed on a standards based technical architecture, and with news consumption trends in mind in and out of Sri Lanka.

Not that anyone in Sri Lanka’s media industry is listening, or comprehending.

ICTs in general

Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s first citizen journalism iPhone app

Thanks to the brilliant Cezar Neaga with whom I worked for around two months on this, I launched today Sri Lanka’s as well as South Asia’s first citizen journalism app for Apple’s iOS platform. The Groundviews app works on the iPod Touch, iPad and is optimised for the iPhone 4’s Retina display.

The press release I sent out today noted,

“This innovative app enables those, particularly in the diaspora, to more easily access updated content published on the site” said Sanjana Hattotuwa, founding Editor of Groundviews. “Based on our experience in developing this app, we welcome inquiries to help develop similar iOS apps for other citizen journalism and mainstream media initiatives”.

Apple has around 25% of the smartphone market in the US alone, and it’s mobile app store is the world’s largest, with around 350,000 apps downloaded well over two billion times.

The Groundviews app is free and allows a user to,

  • Read all the latest updates to the site
  • Read all the special editions, including the critically acclaimed End of War Special Edition
  • Read all the sections on the site including the satirical Banyan News Reporters, the long-form journalism section and A-Z of Sri Lankan English
  • Follow all updates made on our curated Twitter feed
  • Search through content on the site
  • The app also allows users to quickly take a photo, write down the context and fire off an email to the Editors of Groundviews, enabling new forms of real time journalism that can help bear witness to challenging events and processes.

Featuring high-resolution graphics that look amazing on the iPhone 4’s screen, the app also allows for user customisation.

Download the app from Apple iTunes here. Screenshots of the app here.