Tag Archives: open data

Crowd-ed + Coordinated: FOSS in Africa

“There’s no more powerful force in modern society than the news. It shapes how we see the world, what we judge to be good or bad, important or silly, right or wrong.”
~ Alain de Botton, “Have you Heard the News?” Psychologies, 4/2014

In the April 2014 issue of Psychologies Magazine, Alain de Botton’s interview discusses his new book The News: A User’s Manual, and his philosophical reading of the news as trending toward more personal, more philosophically predictable. It’s perhaps significant that I’m reading this article in an airport news stand out of a pop magazine, rather than reading his book. More on this trend in abbreviated news ingest later…but for now, his points about our pot-boiler appetite for the news does well to introduce some of my recent professional happenings, perspectives on crowd-driven data journalism, and particular perspective on crowd-data programs in Africa.

Nairobi - Crowdmap of Tweets

In Nairobi, while the news has been of late focused on other topics, the last two weeks IDLELO Conference Badgesof my workflow concentrated on two conferences, a IDLELO: FOSS conference and a Global Innovation Competition for citizen-driven government initiatives; they share crowdsourcing and open journalism as themes. I had the pleasure of speaking at the IDLELO-06 conference, supporting Ms. Angela Odour’s talk on Ushahidi prior to preparing my own with James Raterno and Daniel Cheseret of Internews-KE. Of the few journalism organizations presenting, we applied the free-and-open-source-software (FOSS) theme to investigative news reporting and interactive political commentary. Our talk was a case study in health projects, demoing three interactive news stories from this past year at Internews-Kenya. Each interactive delved into some aspect of health monitoring in Kenya, spanning a spectrum of topics from medical services availability to mapping the outposts and effects of extractive industry across the country. While the details and data behind these stories are important and interesting, the presentation in each case was paramount; TL;DR the realities of healthcare and economic/industrial health of the nation were best communicated via interactive charts, and Internews’ series of Data Dredger infographics. The refrain of this and de Botton’s Psychologies perspective persists: attractive and interactive stories, stories that engage with personal, psychological topics, stories that illustrate rather than allude to data are driving our journalism programs and our teams.

Crowdsourcing Comic - XKCDAnd part of that means democratizing the newsroom to a broader population of citizen journalists and crowdsourced contributors, part of this also means broadening our view of where data journalism trendsetting is happening in our world, but to persist on these points, let’s move off the African continent briefly.  Among the most popular articles in the NY Times last year were approachable, interactive pieces; it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the appetite for news often bends to people’s visceral interests, regional perspectives and even “popular biases” as de Botton suggests in his Psychologies interview. Likewise, the Guardian’s 2013 popular titles for most popular articles (among Snowden and the Boston bombing coverage) include the following:

  • Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?
    3.2m page views, 1,263 comments
  • Michael Douglas: Oral sex caused my cancer
    2.0m page views
  • Royal baby: Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to a boy – live
    1.5m page views

Global Innovation Challenge CrowdThis is not to suggest that the most popular news publications follow predominantly potboiler subject lines, but rather to note that there is a persistent appetite for pop culture throughout all news sources and dissemination platforms, irrespective of reputation. Mixed in with the seriousness and severity of crises worldwide, the presence of pop culture news commands significant attention; perhaps Global Innovation Challenge Collab - Nairobi, KEreflecting an appetite for popular and approachable media. When de Botton claims that “the ideal news would take into account people’s natural inclinations…it wouldn’t start with the wise, good, or serious outlooks,” I thought the judgement was a bit unfair and dismissive of journalism’s future, but maybe, on reflection, not so removed from reality in journalism’s present (Psychologies Magazine, 54).

This media appetite is agnostic to journalism hierarchies, persistently attracted to KE-MAVC8personalized stories, that show how one girl lives in NYC projects, or how a population’s accent differs according to regional divisions. We crave a personalized experience with the news even in the most distinguished publications, we crave a flat structure of open contribution, where the stories are interactive, where we can comment publicly in the thread following each post, where the content is sometimes crowdsourced, and the platforms are participatory. Our appetite for pop culture parallels publication output. In a digital media landscape where everyone from Buzzfeed to Fbook to O.K. Cupid have a data science team, our population of increasingly connected readers is interested in the personalized analytics of their networks, in the data science that drives our personal lives and pop culture as much as our professional publication platforms, and sometimes, in how all of these data fuse.Lagos - Crowdmap of Tweets

One way to adapt to this is to invite more contributors into the news reporting community from the reported community; to flatten the reporting structure, to amplify the data-driven projects that drive the page view counts often used to index our community impact. Promoting “popular” media isn’t just about echoing celebrity gossip and simplified story-lines but rather developing a sensitive authoring practice, crafting stories that readers can identify and interact with, and this trend is carrying into bootstrapped newsrooms across the African continent and throughout the world. In supplement to interviews, we crowdsource data collection in the way of Ushahidi, instead of lone-wolf work of an re-located investigative journalist, we train teams of indigenous journalists to report on their own local communities in the way of Internews. I’m privileged to work with organizations actively contributing to this type of globalized citizen journalism and crowd-reporting, likewise privileged to work with journalists when I am at best an “outsider-[FOSS]-artist.”

This is not new science of course, most established papers have a data teams these days, and it’s not uncommon for teams of developer-journalists to collaborate on investigative pieces, but to recognize the trends as reflective of an interest in crowd-driven projects, and citizen-journalism engagement globally is perhaps important and worth considering as we re-evaluate where journalism is, and where it is going.

Accra - Crowdmap of TweetsCrowd-sourcing information, crowd-funding and crowd-feedback loops in the journalism community are more popular, and not just in the USA. Analytics permit us to track what our crowd of readers actually reads (or at least what they click on), to adapt our stories and investigative practice to suit those interests. Though we still have a rockstar reporter hall-of-fame that celebrates individuals and their contributions to the industry, with data-driven projects, we can now appreciate more than ever, that often, and maybe always, the byline includes a team, a small crowd of developers-journalists-researchers working on a comprehensive and data-informed investigation.

“I doubt if it makes much difference, frankly, but at the margin I think that we’re moving to a kind of journalism that is more casual, more informal, more personal, and a very formal byline seems as out of place as a three-piece suit in the newsroom.”
~ Nicholas Kristof, “What’s Missing in my Byline,” New York Times: Opinion Pages, 1/2014

Tunis - Crowdmap of TweetsAnd this isn’t only happening at the New York Times or The Economist, it’s happening in Africa too. This brings me to the second conference happening of the past two weeks of work. At this week’s Global Innovation Challenge week in Nairobi, we’ve been working with teams of selected delegates from 10 countries around the world, teams who are working to connect their citizens more directly with their governments and foster policy change through open data. This type of effort can read as a quixotic ambition, but with developer and data-driven programs, it is possible. Johannesburg - Crowdmap of Tweets

Further, it’s noteworthy that all of the delegates are paired teams, not-lone crusaders, these efforts are built on partnerships between multiple contributors (developers, political activists) and multiple institutions, on crowd-driven programs meant to collect a maximum of opinion and surface a population of opinions from a representative sample of constituents. Supported by Ushahidi and hosted by iHub, this week of conference talks, pitches and programs is designed to foster more crowd and community driven data reporting across the globe, and model the crowd-centric trends so observable in our increasingly personalized and popular media.

Crowd-driven journalism and FOSS initiatives have in one respect opened the community to a broader population of self-taught developers and scrappy reporters, and also broadened the potential for citizen-sourced, -funded, -voted journalism projects. The crowd will doubtless drive even more data projects in the future, and craft a more personalized and popular media with a global scope. Crowd + Africa doesn’t have to mean crisis mapping or violence, it can mean participatory reporting and progressive reform, it can mean a program of re:activism, or react-ivism, piloted by a crowd of programmers and a ragtag group of pirates and outsider journo-artists. We’re working to amplify the crowd, and data-driven newsrooms internationally, in keeping with up the [journalism] Joneses.

Ushahidi Ecosphere Diagram

To that end, and in conclusion, I leave you with a link to our Ushahidi community survey, an effort on our part to make crowdsourcing a part of our own analytics and feature development workflow. Please fill it out so that we might improve our software and help other investigative journalists spin up custom instances of geo-local data collection all over the world:



Recent Happenings:


Images in this post courtesy of XKCD, IDLELO06, Global Innovation Competition, and FloatingSheep.org (African tweetmaps)


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Absentee Archiving: why autumn is the most Occupied of seasons

Apologies, I’ve been an absentee archivist for the past month, overwhelmed as I am with all of the new excitement that the Fall semester brings. I’m writing now in brief to announce a brief blog hiatus thanks to my thesis (yikes!) and guest blogging activity, which will now be absorbing writing precedence until I submit in (gasp) December. A big part of my recent activity has been some fumble attempts at front end programming and some event planning for Girl Develop It, the non-profit I volunteer for that teaches women how to code in low-cost classes; accordingly, I’ve peppered this post with graphs I’ve charted (thank you Michael for showing me the magic of HighCharts) and female dev-ful events I’ve hosted. As this is an all-over-the-place post, I’ve tagged it up with some tagging refs. If you’ve been following this blog *applause*, you will know my affinity for tags (these, and these, and these) in all of  their semantic iterations (as per previous blog post). What follows are some bulleted updates on upcoming excitement.

  • Archives Documentary: Thanks to some friends and recent side projects, I’m increasingly fascinated by 3rd party archive projects. A friend at Eyebeam is on residency to create a documentary around themes of preservation of internet memory (and meme-ory). I recently gave a tour of the internet, and have been following the blog (http://archivefilm.tumblr.com/). If you dig data you should too.

  • Radio Show: My show is now underway *whoot*. Look under the projects tab (Projects > Radio) to find my archived episodes throughout the next few months. Inspired by the Semantic Web and that 70s show Connections, I DJ Stereo Semantics, an experiment in sonic degrees of degrees of separation. Sundays – 9-10pm EST.
  • Art/Education Projects: Game of Phones; I’ve been the lucky lady added to the Game of Phones queue and now that I’m oh man it’s addictive. Rather refreshing to watch actual phone use supersede all of the killer apps that now bog my “smart[er?]” phone (thanks David Lublin). Inspired by some cool open data postings on the ArtSec (Art + Security, you’ll know if from #artstech fame) google Group, I worked with a Miso/High Charts Stack to visualize some Graffiti tagging data from the NYC open data portal (thanks Michael Keller for the R aid). I’ve captioned a few vis examples and am looking forward to plotting this on a map soon.
  • 3rd Party Blogs: Control Group, Girl Develop It. Check out my recent posts @ControlGroup and @GDI: Technology for all: It’s a Gal++ World, relative to my Women in Tech volunteer projects. IA few weeks ago, I had the privilege Todd Park, CTO of the US, to discuss policy related to Women in Technology and their Presidential Fellows program (a fellowship which attracts a paucity of female applicants), with NY Tech Meetup and representatives of women and tech initiatives around NYC. Working with GDI and Hack n’Jill to promote a more egalitarian techscape is ever-fulfilling and certainly an important building block of brilliant and beautiful products in STEM fields. I’m happy to be a part of it.

  • Metadata Course: However under qualified I may be, I’m also assisting with a Metadata course at Pratt on Saturday mornings, designing excercises and curricula to compliment a syllabus of mainly XML implementations of metadata schemas. Of late, I’m a bit frustrated with the kludgyness of the Moodle microblogging system that’s baked into Pratt’s course enrollment and learning management software, so I’ll be migrating class content and posts to a WordPress Blog (to flesh out slowly, stay tuned!).

  • Hackathons: Data Kind/Occupy Hackathon/Hack n’ Jill. While I rarely have adequate bandwidth or energy on my weekends, I recently had the pleasure of contributing remotely to an Occupy Hackathon aimed at making use of the rich data collected throughout Occupy and its affiliated movements. Likewise, I was fortunate enough to learn from the Data Kind Data Dive, visualizing NYC Parks Data a few weeks ago; this introduced me to a pretty brilliant assortment of geo-vis tech stacks, and CartoDB, which I have become subsequently obsessed with and will happily share with whomever I can: http://cartodb.com/. My company and Girl Develop It are also partnering with Hack n’ Jill  to host a 2 day Hacksgiving at Etsy.

Sign up here: http://hacksgiving.eventbrite.com/. and come out the weekend of November 9-10th to see some rad hacks!

  • Conferences: LISA, Strata, Visualized, SIGGRAPH-Asia. If you’re in NYC and want to catch me at some conferences, I’ll be volunteering at LISA and Visualized. I’ll be attending the big data nerd conf in NYC in two weeks: http://strataconf.com/. And I have been graciously awarded funding to participate in Siggraph Asia 2012, so I’ll be off to Singapore in a wee few weeks (h1ph1ph00ray): http://www.siggraph.org/asia2012/en.

So those are the haps! Oh and I was also featured in these random but delightful things: MSN Glo article, librarian conference article. Thanks for reading, friends, join me at any of the upcoming events above, and send in your radio show rec’s to auremoser@gmail.com!

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