Archive for the ‘Collaborative Tools’ Category
Tags: 2011 Egyptian revolution, Cairo, Jigar Mehta, Yasmin Elayat
“For the first time in history, citizens are recording an actual revolution in real time. Throughout the 18 days of the 2011 uprising—in the year since—and now—Egyptians are filming pivotal events on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting and facebooking their extraordinary bid for freedom. Now, “18 Days in Egypt”, the collaborative documentary project, aims to capture the events of the revolution right here… in an interactive documentary website that everyone can access now and into the future.”
In the run up to today’s anniversary, last week saw the launch of the website for 18 Days in Egypt - the collaborative online documentary project about the Egyptian Revolution announced early last year (Posts Sept 11, Nov 11). I recently talked to 18 Days co-creator Jigar Mehta about how he’s approaching this work-in-progress which seeks to tell the story of the uprising through the media produced by those those who were there.
Mehta was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University a year ago when he was struck by the potential of all the media content that was being created by the revolutionaries in Egypt, ” The original idea was, how could we create a documentary that would be more innovative using that media? And that’s where ‘18 Days in Egypt’ started.” In the first instance Mehta and Egyptian co-creator Yasmin Elayat imagined they would make a composite film, in the mould of Life in a Day, “a traditional documentary crafted from social media or from contributions”. They then became interested in the potential of the content that already existed not as building blocks for a linear film but as a route to deeper exploration of the events by those involved, “a person’s electronic footprint is the first draft of their own history, and it can create a really rich starting point for storytelling.”
Supported by an award from the Tribeca New Media Fund, the first stage of the project has been about creating an architecture that allows contribution. Mehta has spent a lot of time the past few months in Copenhagen developing GroupStre.am, a platform for collaborative storytelling, which enables people to tell the story of a particular moment or incident by drawing together their own content from social media accounts using public APIs, adding more context or commentary if desired. The platform looks neat, and group storytelling is intrinsic to the proposition. In any story you file you are asked who was there with you, and those people will be alerted via their social media accounts (assuming they have them), and can contribute too. As a journalist, Mehta is excited about the potential of this collective approach, both for its story value but also as a means of peer authentication.
With web connectivity and access in Egypt patchy, content gathering online is going to be supplemented by a big face-to-face campaign, and local journalists are being recruited on fellowships to work with eyewitnesses in person and host “upload parties” in Cairo and, budget allowing, beyond. These in-person meetings will also allow for important conversations around the implications – for legality, safety, privacy – of publishing content in what continues to be a volatile political situation.
The next stage of the project will be about developing the audience experience, and Mehta admits that they’ve barely begun to think through what kind of documentary narrative/s might emerge. “We’re saying, “Where will this media take us? Where will these stories take us?” It might be some type of museum installation. It might be some type of short webisodes. It might be a narrative film. We’re pretty open right now.” Mehta and Elayat are in search of a form that can do justice to multiple viewpoints as well as being responsive to the ongoing story. The editorial ambition is to provide an alternative to representing the revolution as driven by what Mehta calls, “hero characters”. In an interview with the thedailynewsegypt.com, Elayat expanded on this,“We are always led to believe that history is written by one narrator. It’s somehow linear, but that is outdated now. History is not linear; we can be the first country that actively and collectively writes our history.”
thedailynewsegypt.com covered the launch, which attracted nearly 400 people, giving a feel for the response to the project by supporters in Cairo,”…the stone courtyard of the Tahrir Lounge was transformed into what felt like a political concert of sorts with combative performances by local rap group Arabian Knightz, singer Ramy Essam and MC Amin…Karim Adel (aka Rush) from Arabian Knightz said, “These types of initiatives are extremely important considering the fact that state media is continually lying. We need a media that’s going to document the truth.”
Tags: Citizen journalism, Cowbird, Jonathan Harris, Occupy, Occupy Wall Street, Sep Kamvar, Storify, TED, We Feel Fine
“Cowbird is a simple tool for telling stories, and a public library of human experience.” Jonathan Harris’ latest project, just released, Cowbird is a gorgeous new platform for individual and collaborative storytelling. As Harris describes it on his site,
“Cowbird is a small community of storytellers, interested in telling deeper, longer-lasting, more nourishing stories than you’re likely to find anywhere else on the Web. We are building a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons, available for this and future generations to look to for guidance.
Cowbird is also experimenting with a new form of participatory journalism, allowing people from all over the world to collaborate in documenting the overarching “sagas” that affect our lives today. Sagas are things like the Japanese earthquake, the war in Iraq, and the Occupy Wall Street movement — things that touch millions of lives and shape the human story. We believe the real story of a saga is the story of every single person touched by the saga. But it’s never been possible to tell that kind of story — until now.”
Harris is best known for We Feel Fine, “an almanac of human emotion“, created by sampling the world’s blogs every few minutes for the words “I feel fine” or “I am feeling”. The work, created with Sep Kamvar, made a stir when it was launched in 2005 and soon became an iconic piece. Still live, We Feel Fine still impresses for its innovation and for its realisation, bringing computer science, data visualisation and storytelling to bear on content that is unlocked by tapping into the common metadata structure of blogs.
While studying computer science at Princeton Harris noticed that, ”suddenly people en masse were leaving scores and scores of digital footprints online that told stories of their private lives; blog posts, photographs, thoughts, feelings opinions…so I started to write computer programmes that study very large sets of these online footprints.” The beautifully simple idea of sampling the blogosphere was one way Harris went about this, working with the human data in the snatches of self-expression being accrued moment by moment on social media platforms. I Want you to Want Me (2008) continued this line of inquiry, examining contemporary love and desire through the content that people post on dating sites. Since then Harris has explored the space where storytelling,human and machine meet in a number of fascinating projects including The Whale Hunt – a Nanook of the North for the digital age. You can explore them all on Harris’ site.
Cowbird enters a field which, partly inspired by Harris’ past work, is becoming busy. Storify looks like a similar proposition but is about storytelling through aggregation rather than considered narratives by individuals. And Storify is a less alluring proposition. Cowbird is elegantly realised so that you want to explore (though I haven’t had time to yet). But I’m uncomfortable with the invitation based membership. It will no doubt guarantee a high quality of content, but it seems at odds with the project’s professed remit. A “small community” can no doubt tell some great stories. But can it be inclusive enough to build a “library” of “human experience”? I guess we’ll find out.
There’s an interview with Harris about Cowbird on Design Mind.
Tags: Brett Gaylor, Kat Cizek, Mark Surman, Millionth Tower, Mozilla, Mozilla Foundation, National Film Board of Canada, One Millionth Tower, Open source, Popcorn Maker, popcorn.js, Wired
Mozilla’s mission, as Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, explained at the start of proceedings at the Mozilla Festival yesterday, is about building choice, freedoms and technologies into the web to make it a place where we can be makers, not just users. Mozilla are putting their supporters money where their mouth is, building these values in practice through open-source projects which began with the Firefox browser. The ethos of the Mozilla Festival is “less yack, more hack”, and the running order is made up of learning labs and workshops where projects are developed in a sprint. This years theme is “Media, Freedom and the Web”; the question, “what if media can be as open as hypertext has been?” and the open plan spaces of Ravensbourne College‘s RIBA award winning campus in North Greenwich, were abuzz yesterday (and will be today) with people working on ambitious, important projects including The Data Journalism Handbook - which will give aspiring journalists a toolkit for accessing and making sense of data available through the web. See the Festival site for the agenda and some of the coverage.
So there was a lot to be excited about at the Festival. Even so, the release of Mozilla’s Popcorn 1.0 – the HTML5 tool that “makes video work like the web” was the big story yesterday. If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll know about Popcorn – a tool for linking video to other web content – which has been in pre-release over the last year. (CollabDocs posts include Open Video Conference 2010). If not you can find out more in this backgrounder on Popcorn from Matt at Mozilla (thanks for the post title.)
Kat Cizek’s One Millionth Tower, a ground-breaking documentary spin-off from the Highrise project, is made with open-source tools – Popcorn and Web GL (which enables the interactive generation of 3D graphics). It premiered at the Festival last night. (Unfortunately I had to leave early but experienced the hoopla via my Twitter feed on the train home. ) You can see it in linear form, more importantly explore it (you’ll need Chrome or Firefox) now on Wired.com. This is surely the first time the magazine has led on a documentary story, which underlines the significance of this moment for the moving image.
As Wired puts it; One Millionth Tower, ”is not just a static story recorded on film and then edited together for audiences. It exists in a 3-D setting made possible by a tool called three.js, which lets viewers walk around the high-rise neighborhood. Moving through allows viewers to see the current state of urban decay, then activate elements to show ways the residents would change their world, like an animation showing where a new playground or garden would go.
The interactive movie is chock-full of photos from Flickr, street-views from Google Maps and changing environments fueled by real-time weather data from Yahoo. Everything is triggered by Popcorn.js, which acts like a conductor signalling which instruments play at what times.”
Brett Gaylor, filmmaker and Mozilla lead on the Popcorn project has said, “This is the moment where web video grows up as an artistic medium. In the same way that earlier film pioneers experimented with new techniques like montage, we’re now seeing ‘web-made movies’ that pull in real time information from the web.”
One Millionth Tower isn’t a totally slick product. It’s not an end in itself, but it involves significant innovation which has come about through a happy confluence of open-source politics, some very talented people, and imaginative investment by Mozilla and the National Film Board of Canada. Cizek explained how the approach emerged in an interview with CollabDocs a few months ago. There’s lots more background on One Millionth Tower on Wired. Check out the Open Technology video for an explanation of the open-source technologies involved in the piece. But let’s not forget the theme of urban life and community which is the subject of One Millionth Tower, and the inspiring collaborative approach to documentary production which the project reflects. This is Cizek and her team reinventing documentary for social change as a 21st century practice. (Read more about how Cizek was hired by the National Film Board of Canada to rework the seminal Challenge for Change project here.)
As Cizek says in the Open Technology video, “The philosophy behind open-source technology is that the technology is all of ours to own. That’s exactly the philosophy behind all the projects of Highrise. One Millionth Tower is about us owning our urban space and having the power and the vision to transform it.”
The Popcorn 1.0 release includes the Popcorn Maker, an easy to use authoring tool. Try it, you’ll be linking your video to other web content in moments. We have been used to video sitting on the web within a player, aloof from the linked and networked character of its environment. Popcorn changes that. Seeing it in action on your own video content is the best way of getting a feel for why this matters for documentary.
Tags: "The Are You Happy Project", 18daysinegypt, Highrise, HTML5, James Burns, Jesse Shapins, Kara Oehler, Kat Cizek, Mapping Main Street, Mozilla, Open Video Conference, popcorn.js, Rebellious Pixels, Web Made Movies, Zeega
It’s this year’s Open Video Conference (OVC) in NYC this weekend. “Open video is the movement to promote free expression and innovation in online video.” I was there last year and it was a great event, very relevant to my work, and this year’s lineup is no less strong.
There are two projects on the programme which I’m particularly interested in. There’s a workshop on Popcorn.js – an open HTML5 platform, created by Mozilla’s Web Made Movies team, which allows producers to relate video to other web data – which I’m going to be working with this Autumn. The Popcorn project has really moved on since the Beta version I mentioned here last year. They’ve built Butter now, an authoring tool to make Popcorn accessible, and producers have created a number of demos that explore its potential. Rebellious Pixels make perfect use of Popcorn as an annotation engine, to reveal the sources of the content in this brilliant Donald Duck remix. In Happy World, it’s used to provide additional context and information to a documentary about the Burmese Junta. In a rougher state, but tantalising for its documentary potential, is a proof of concept for 18DaysinEgypt, the crowd-sourced documentary that’s being made from the media that people produced during the revolution in Egypt back in January / February of this year. The 18Days team have used Popcorn to create overlays offering details within a shot, which they have tested on footage of a demonstration, and it looks like a very powerful way of depicting the dynamics of those unfolding events. And there’s more Popcorn in the pipeline. Kat Cizek described to me in her recent interview how the Highrise team are using it to offer footnotes and semantic references within a 3D animated environment on their latest sub-project The Millionth Tower.
Over the last few months I’ve been gathering video contributions from collaborators for The Are you happy? project and there are quite a collection now – from Serbia, Scotland, Maharastra, Tasmania and elsewhere. Do take a look at the project gallery and the Vimeo group. The sequences are fascinating, and feel like micro-portraits of the places they come from. Taken together they raise lots of questions about happiness, and point up the interview as a social construct, with the interviewer’s style, and the context - Ugandan market, Bristol fashion school, Mongolian capital city square - clearly playing a big part in the kind of things that get said.
This Autumn I’ll be looking at how I can use Popcorn to inform and add other layers of meaning to this content. I want to see how contextual data combines with the video, and try creating some annotations. What really interests me is how web data can be used in a poetic way, creating a montage effect which with live data will be dynamic. Right now I’m wondering what kinds of data and annotation might work in this way – happiness indices? news feeds? weather info? poetry? psychology? One reason I’m sorry to miss the Open Video Conference is that it would be an opportunity to knock these questions around with others who’ve been thinking about how Popcorn can work. If that’s you, or if these questions particularly interest you do please get in touch.
Another ambitious project that will be showcased at the OVC is Zeega – “an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries and inventing new forms of storytelling. Zeega will make it easy to collaboratively produce, curate and publish participatory multimedia projects online, on mobile devices and in physical spaces.” Zeega first got a mention here last year when it was very early days for the project. It’s being developed by Kara Oelher, Jesse Shapins and James Burns, the team behind Mapping Main Street, and they’ve recently won a prestigious award which will support them in the next stages of the development. There’s an interview on the Open Video Conference site about how Zeega is progressing, and an invitation to sign up if you’re interested in creating a Zeega pilot project.
“Will video be woven into the fabric of the open web? Or will online video become a glorified TV-on-demand service? Open Video is a movement to promote free expression and innovation in online video through open standards, open source, and sharing.” These are the questions and the mission behind the OVC and the Conference is about building the policy, rights framework, technology and creative ideas that will support accessible and open web video. Tools like Zeega and Popcorn are really significant in that undertaking, allowing producers without coding skills to produce video projects for and of the web, so that we can begin to see what’s possible when the immersive world of video meets the network landscape of the web.
Tags: BBC, Challenge for Change, CINER, Community Programmes Unit, DCRC, Filmmaker-in-Residence, Gerry Flahive, Highrise, Holy Mountain, iDocs, iDocs Symposium, Jacqueline Wallace, Katerina Cizek, MPI-TV, NFB, Out my Window, Peter Wintonick, PIne Point, Public AccessTV, Sandra Gaudenzi, Seeing is Believing, Video Nation
Good news this week from Cannes, where Katerina Cizek / Gerry Flahive‘s ‘Out my Window’ was the deserving winner of a Digital Emmy for non-fiction at MIP-TV. I’ve enthused about this National Film Board of Canada interactive documentary project here a number of times. (Nov ’10, Jan ’11). It’s the first output from Highrise, “a multi-year, multimedia project” exploring “vertical living in the global suburbs”, which brings the stories of people in highrise communities vividly to life in a web based interactive format.
We had hoped the project director Kat Cizek might be able to present her work at the recent DCRC iDocs Symposium. In the end she couldn’t be there, but Sandra Gaudenzi talked to her a few weeks ago on Skype for the iDocs blog. (Also see the substantial consideration of “Out my Window” that Sandra wrote on her Interactive Documentary blog.)
Watching Kat Cizek you get a feel for some of the factors that contribute to the success of ‘Out my Window’. The iterative process – where research leads the thinking about approach – is key to the great fit between form and content. It’s clear that Cizek is an impressive digital producer with a fluency across platforms and technologies, but interactive production is very much about team work and she’s evidently also part of a great creative team.
The commissioning context is really important here too, though. It’s pretty unusual for a commissioner to make a substantial investment in an experimental project with undefined outputs (though that was, it’s worth mentioning, just what happened on BBC 2′s Video Nation project, and was, without doubt, key to why it worked. But that’s another story…) In the case of Highrise, it demonstrates the National Film Board of Canada’s faith in Cizek, and their grasp of non-linear production. For Highrise is one project in an extraordinary body of interactive documentary work that the National Film Board has commissioned. (The NFB were marketing 14 interactive projects at this year’s MIP-TV.) Have a look on their portal. Explore Pine Point or Holy Mountain. These are intelligent works that take advantage of what the web can do to explore the complexities of life now.
More than that, the NFB have invested in the development of digital documentary as a social practice, and Katerina Cizek is crucial to this story. Back in 2002, Cizek, who has described herself as a “social-justice documentarian”, had explored the democratising potential of the camcorder in ”Seeing is Believing”, a film made with Peter Wintonick . So, when the the NFB had the idea to revisit their Challenge for Change project in the digital age by appointing a Filmmaker-in-Residence, it was Cizek they approached.
Challenge for Change was a pioneering NFB participatory media project that started in 1967, in which filmmakers worked in partnership with marginalised communities, not just to reflect their situations, but to change them. 145 films were made within the project which was the inspiration for Public Access TV projects including the BBC’s Community Programmes Unit.
In 2004 the NFB recruited Katerina Cizek, who embedded herself with the health care community at St Michaels, an inner-city hospital in Toronto, and set about reinventing the Challenge for Change model as a digital project – as what she called “Interventionist Media.” You can see what happened in “The Seven Interventions of Filmmaker-in-Residence“, a film charting the five year process. Watch it. It’s inspiring. There’s also a DVD box set that came out of the project, that I haven’t seen yet. In the words of Jacqueline Wallace, who interviewed Cizek in 2010 for CINER (the Concordia Interactive Narrative & Research Group), ”The resulting work is nothing short of a multimedia juggernaut and includes several films, a photo exhibit, a filmmaker’s blog, and a web documentary that exemplifies non-linear narrative and the possibilities it represents to tell the stories of real people and create real change.”
Out my Window is, then, very much a continuation of Cizek’s energetic engagement with the possibilities of non-linear, with documentary for social change and with participatory and collaborative processes. It’s also a triumph in terms of its realisation – with evocative soundscapes, rich 360 photography, and flashes of animation brought together through apt, engaging visual navigation. [Do we yet have a good term for that 'bringing together', that process of montage in interactive production?]
So, congratulations to Cizek and the team. Do check out the latest, Participate section of Out my Window, which artfully presents photo contributions gathered through a Flickr group. It includes a stunning sequence of images that witness the Egyptian Revolution as seen from a window in Alexandria in February.
I’m going to be really interested to see how the Highrise project will evolve from here. Right now, I’ll leave you with the Manifesto for Interventionist Media that Cizek wrote while working with the community at St Michael’s. (It comes from the Filmmaker in Residence blog - Cizek talks about it in the video above.) It’s a great document – a blueprint for a socially engaged documentary practice.
- The original project idea and goals come from the community partner.
- The filmmaker’s role is to experiment and adapt documentary forms to the original idea. Break stereotypes. Push the boundaries of what documentary means.
- Use documentary and media to “participate” rather than just to observe and to record. Filmmaker-in-Residence is not an A/V or a PR department.
- Work closely with the community partner, but respect each other’s expertise and independence.
- Use whatever medium suits – video, photography, world wide web, cell phones, ipods or just pen and paper. It can all be documentary.
- Work through the ethics, privacy and consent process with your partners before you begin, and adapt your project accordingly. Sometimes it means changing your whole approach – or even dropping it. That’s the cost of being ethical.
- The social and political goals – and the process itself — are paramount. Ask yourself every day: why are you doing this project?
- Always tell a good story.
- Track the process, the results and spend time disseminating what you’ve learned with multiple communities: professionals, academics, filmmakers, media, general public, advocates, critics and students.
- Support the community partner in distribution and outreach. Spend 10% of the time making it and 90% of the time getting it out into the world.
Tags: Barter, Carsharing, Collaborative consumption, eBay, GoGet, Rachel Botsman, Swaptree, TED, ZipCar, Zopa
“We now live in a global village where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face but on a scale that would never have been possible before…we’ve wired our world to share”, says Rachel Botsman, who has been thinking about how consumerism is being reconfigured in the emerging collaborative culture.
Botsman is interested in how the online network is facilitating a reemergence of bartering and trading, supported by mechanisms that enable trust between strangers. She sites eBay, Swaptree (media exchange), Zopa (social lending), GoGet & ZipCar (car sharing), as well as You Tube, as examples of a burgeoning peer to peer economy. For Botsman this isn’t a passing trend but heralds a major shift away from individual ownership and hyper-consumption.
What she has to say is very relevant to collaborative production, which also in a sense takes us back to older folk traditions where creativity wasn’t synonymous with the individual author or artist. Her book, What’s Mine is Yours, co-authored with Roo Rogers, is out now. Her TED talk is well worth fifteen minutes of your time.
Tags: American VI: Ain't No Grave, Chris Milk, Johnny Cash, Music video
I just came across a short documentary recently posted on You Tube by Chris Milk, director of the luminous Johnny Cash Project. It’s based on interviews with some of the fan / artists who have taken part in his virtuoso crowd-sourced work. The interviews underline the powerful feeling about Johnny Cash that the project draws on, and help explain just how good so much of the art work is, in that people show themselves as more than willing to invest time and effort in homage to an artist who had given them so much. The project is a very contemporary act of devotion, a collective memorial.
I recall a decade or so ago, people would say; “The internet – it’s all very interesting, but you don’t get stories there, or emotion. I mean, when was the last time you cried at your computer?” Well, that would be this morning, watching this video… It’s very moving – about loss, yes, but also about human creativity, and what we’ll give for culture that feels authentic.
Tags: Dziga Vertov, Google Labs, Johnny Cash, Man with a Movie Camera, Michael Jackson, perry bard, the creative internet, YouTube
Google Labs have just released a round up of 106 noteworthy online projects – The Creative Internet. It’s a treasure trove and a great resource – looking across genres and themes – Audio, Movies, Visual, Data, News etc.
It features a number of collaborative projects I’ve written about here before – In Bb, Thru You, The Johnny Cash Project, The Wilderness Downtown – some that I’ve meant to write about but haven’t got around to like the Michael Jackson tribute; The Eternal Moonwalk. It also showcases a number of projects that are new to me. There are too many to mention but do check out the presentation.
In particular, it was exciting to be introduced to Perry Bard’s impressive global remake of Dziga Vertov‘s classic documentary Man with a Movie Camera, a project which is right up my street, and which is understandably nominated for the You Tube Play Awards. I’ll return to this, and to the Remake phenomenon, soon.
Tags: Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day, one day on earth, Ridley Scott, Vimeo, YouTube
Today sees the filming of a global collaborative project; One Day on Earth, which the organisers are describing as the “largest participatory media event in history”. It’s hot on the heels of Life in a Day, the Ridley Scott, Kevin Macdonald project that I wrote about back in July for which You Tubers were invited to record on July 24th, and at first glance seems barely distinguishable from that initiative.
“ Together, we will showcase the amazing diversity, conflict, tragedy, and triumph that occur in one day,” the promo explains,” If you believe in something, if you have one message you can put in the world’s time capsule, one story you can put in the record of history, we hope that you will be inspired, and really go out and find it, and put it in the capsule, put it in the document, put it in our film.”
Sounds familiar, but where the focus of the call to action for Life in a Day was “compelling and distinctive” content and directorial point of view, One Day on Earth has a social purpose, or a number of purposes, as the Friends and Causes pages on the website makes clear. In particular many of today’s recordings will have a sustainability theme as 10:10:10 (10th October 2010) is a day of action for a number of organisations addressing climate change including 350.org, a partner in One Day on Earth. Another interesting feature of One Day on Earth’s mission statement is that the content created today will become a user created shareable documentary archive. That’s a major piece of work to deliver, but could be of immense value. Additionally, with one project on You Tube and the other on Vimeo it will be fascinating to see how the raw content and the edited films from the two projects compare.
Writing back in July I thought that, with the producers’ star names and the lure of a trip to the Sundance Film Festival for a lucky few, Kevin Macdonald and the Life in a Day team would receive a lot of content. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that they would be trawling through 80,000 contributions from 197 countries. That’s an awesome shooting ratio. The editor, Joe Walker, explains how they’re processing that material on the Life in a Day channel.