Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

Serious games

June 23, 2008

I saw a Washington Post article about an emerging trend of serious games.  It mentions a very interesting initiative called “Games for change“, which describes itself in the following way:

Games for Change (G4C) provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change. We provide special assistance to foundations and non-profits entering the field. Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise. Our members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofits, local and state governments, foundations, the UN and artists.

They have a rather interesting website with many examples of serious games and it also seems that there is quite a vibrant community surrounding these issues.  They have a section of youth produced games, which currently has only one game and i could not really see how it was youth produced (but maybe i am missing something).  Nevertheless, the concept is interesting.

It also reminded that it’s been a while since wanted to post a note about (already not so) new project by Impact Games (creators of Peace Maker).  It’s called “Play the news” and it is kind of a dream league, but for news.  I’ve been following this project since its beta and i find it as an interesting approach to keep people interested in the world’s matters.  My only “worry” is that it seems (based on the discussions on the site) that at least the current pool of participants consists primarily of people who are already curious and knowledgeable about the world affairs.  It would be interesting to see how this idea flies among the youths, who are being blamed to become more disengaged, apathetic, and more.


Online activism week

March 27, 2008

Updated: March 28, 2008

CyberRightsIt seems to me that this week can be easily titled as the online activism week.

Online deliberative spaces continue gaining further recognition in the global political discourse. In Europe, the blogosphere is gaining weight as an innovative political voice. In the States there is a rather creative “battle” unfolding between raining McCains, quite arrogant ObamaGirls, and others. However, all it pales compared to the last week developments surrounding the violence in Tibet.

A recent post from a blog tracking Alexa shows that jumped into the top three online “movers and shakers” this week. Avaaz is a civil rights organization with a “simple” aim “to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want.” The peak in traffic came as a result of them winning a YouTube contest in the political video category. However I got exposed to their name a few days earlier when the blogosphere got practically swamped with calls to support an Avaaz-led petition to end the violence in Tibet.

All this is taking place on the background of Chinese government issuing rules that shut down “unfriendly” online video websites and blocking YouTube and Yahoo for their coverage of Tibet. Similar action was taken by Burmese government during the violence that took place last year.  This time, however, i also see some grassroots anti-Tibet expressions as well.  Here is a link to a video that I got through the international mailing list here at Cornell.

These and other instances suggest that grassroots reporting from conflict zones matters and potentially has some impacts. However whether or not the ability of online activist to raise public awareness can be translated into tangible action, especially in these situations, remains an open question in my mind.


November 26, 2007

A few days ago I mentioned Middle East Youth (MEY) network website. Now there is also an online video channel. It seems to be still in kind of a beta phase, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Great work guys!

Even more on XO as an eBook

November 25, 2007

I feel like I should start apologizing for the amount of posts dealing with this issue :)

However, just today the OLPC-news blog posted a video of the Internet Archive project endorsing XO as an eBook reader.  I don’t think the timing of their post is random, but it definitely helps to clarify the point I was trying to make in the last two posts.

More on Kindle and OX

November 24, 2007

Yesterday I tried to make an argument in favor of spending $400 on XO laptop and not on Kindel. Of course it was a little bit like comparing apples to oranges, but the resemblance in price and the difference of underlying philosophies are so triking, that I thought such a comparison was timely. Today, however, I would like to use this example to think about innovation and synergy in the industry.

As I wrote yesterday, I find it difficult to grasp the “revolutionary” part of Jeff Bezos’ creation. I think we can break it down to two main aspects – technical solutions and processes. In terms of technical solutions, there is not much new in Kindle. It is using the same eInk technology utilized by Sony Reader and other competitors, introduces a few debatable user interface solutions, and forces rather annoying, but working, requirement to convert everything to the Amazon format. Actually, as the largest online book retailer, Amazon is in position where it can impose a certain format, particularly when it also introduces new models for independent book publishing.

This in fact leads us to the second aspect, which is the process. The process is probably the greatest innovation of Kindle, or paraphrasing Bezos “Kindle is not a product, it’s a service”. However it is not a process aimed at improving the reading experience, but a process aimed at improving the experience of buying books. Here, Kindle is definitely doing a great job and introduces a platform, sole use of which is efficient and convenient purchase of electronic books. Together with other people on Amazon’s discussion pages, i am skeptical how much an emphasis on impulsive purchase can be the key in “Kindle revolution”. However in any case the change is focusing on the consumption part of book experience, and not on the reading process (not to mention the creativity aspects that are limited through draconian implementation of DRM).

This brings me back to the question of innovation and OX. Unlike Kindle, and with all the well-deserved criticism, OX represents a product that is innovative both in its concept and in its technological solutions. As a concept, XO is an open platform suited for users’ innovation and sharing. The conscious decision of Negroponte and his team to use open source software has not only cost repercussions, but also less tangible and more long-term oriented impacts on the culture that will evolve among users of OX open systems. Some bloggers suggested that Kindle’s main audience are the youth and the problem of declining readership among them. However, the question is if Kindle is the right device for that educational goal. I keep on referring to Larry Lessing’s talk at TED about DRM, copyright, and locking out of creativity, as well as . It seems to me that XO is a better tool in this sense, not to mention that it is by default more accessible (in terms of price) and more usable holistically speaking (especially about education).

From the point of view of technological innovation, XO is taking a lead here again. Starting from the ability to pack all this functionality in $200, to specific solutions such as the display that can be viewed at direct sunlight, to a particularly strong build that allows the laptop to remain safe even when dropped. Today we can already see attempts to use the XO innovative solution for development of new devices for commercial use in the rich countries, which, in turn, keeps me (and also others) wondering why Amazon insisted on re-inventing the wheel, doing a rather poor job with it, instead of synergizing with others and building meaningful technology technology that can bring change? Continuing my criticism of OLPC a couple of months ago, Kindle seems like really missed opportunity to build a meaningful technology suitable for many, if not to say for all. They could do things differently, but for some reason kept on thinking inside the box.

I think the last point is related to issues of perceptions of technology by Bezos and his crew. Probably even not the technology per se, but the perceived users and, more broadly, Bozes’ personal vision of the future (but these points are for a separate post).

At this point, i would like to repeat the mantra that keeps on returning on this blog for a couple of days already – if you are to spend $400 on a gadget in the next month and half, consider participating in OLPC’s “give 1, get 1” program. This way you can get a cool gadget and also contribute another one to a kid in a developing country. And i am not the only one thinking so anymore.

Kindle vs. OX

November 23, 2007

If you were looking for a new gadget to get this holiday season and were ready to spend, let say, $400, what would you get a Kindle from Amazon or OX from the OLPC program? I’d like to argue for the second option. If you are to spend $400, I think it makes more sense to spend it on the OX computer and I will try to explain why.

I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the massive marketing machine Amazon put in place to push its new device. For me it started from some random news reports a while ago, moved into a massive and uber-optimistic article in Newsweek, and continued with this thing stuck on every corner of Amazon website and some flashbacks in the blogosphere. Frankly, i still cannot understand what is so revolutionary about this device.

Of course there are some neat solutions in Kindle. Although it is not really new, the use of ePaper sounds promising for the ease of reading from screen. The fact that you can quickly buy a book and have a copy of it stored at Amazon in case you loose the device, also sounds nice (though the dependency on Amazon’s eternal existence is a bit scary and i doubt the dominance of impulsive online purchase when it comes to books, but I may be wrong with the last point). The ability to have many books on a single device is also appealing as well as the idea of semi-dynamic content (i.e. subscription to newspapers and magazines to be delivered directly to your Kindle). So far, it all is nice, but nothing is really innovative. On the innovative side, I think the wireless solution they have is interesting (only I didn’t figure out how much you have to pay for the air time) and the fact that people can sell their own writing in a form of eBook sounds really great.

At the same, I still don’t understand why one would like a separate device just for reading books? Are you suggesting that today I need a laptop, a mobile phone, a PDA, and now also Kindle? Each one as a separate device? Why? Then, the format issue and the fact that you have to transfer all your eBooks to Amazon format seems to me as extremely annoying. Unless Amazon format will become the standard, such as PDF today, there is no logical explanation from a consumer point of view. However more important is the digital rights management (DRM) implemented in the device, thus taking from a user any ability to share, give, or recreate with the book they are buying from Amazon (for that matter you might want to watch a great lecture by Larry Lessig given at TED). This last part is completely frustrating and if anything, i think this may be the killer of Amazon format.

Now, if you look at XO, for the same $400 you are getting a laptop with quite advanced abilities. Starting with the con’s one could probably point at the size of the laptop (242mm × 228mm × 32mm) and its weight (about 1.5kg or 3.2 lb and up). However this would be the only disadvantage for someone who is counting on it as primarily a reading device. If we consider the main strength of Kindle for example, i.e. its screen, XO offers a similar experience (although it isn’t using eInk) as well as a color option. In addition to a great screen, you would get an open system with all the functionality of a laptop including WiFi capabilities, option to use PDFs, and actually have control over your music files, meaning that you can listen to audio-books from anywhere, not just Amazon (you can find the complete specs of XO here). I think these were the main points of complain against Kindle, something that together with the price tag drove its ratings on Amazon to 2.5 stars only. In addition you would get a durable build and a very long battery life together with a series of alternative energy solutions.

However this is not all.

One of the top reasons why I think you should consider XO (and not Kindle) for your $400 is not the fact that you are getting a better product for the same money for yourself, but the fact that by buying one, you are automatically contribute another one to a kid in developing country. In fact, the XO laptop costs only $200 and the rest of what you pay is a (tax deductible in the US) donation, which is going to sponsor the second laptop for that child in a village in Africa or elsewhere in the world. According to the recent updates the XO laptops are in demand and have been bought at a rate of ~5K a day since the beginning of “give 1, get 1” less than 2 weeks ago. Moreover, yesterday OLPC announced that they are extending the “give 1, get 1” until December 31st. So, there is now even more time to think and make the best use of your $400.

UN 2.0

November 23, 2007

Just read about the World Food Program (WFP) utilizing YouTube to create viral campaign about global hunger issue. Sounds as an interesting and innovative approach on behalf of UN. At the same time, you can still see the struggle between UN 1.0 that has the need to control the process entirely, and UN 2.0 that is trying to use new media and its distributed nature. As I understand this, unlike other initiatives (such as the presidential debates for example), in this case you are submitting the videos to WFP, they choose the top 5 from their perspective, and only then the finalists are released to YouTube for everybody to watch and judge.

I understand the need of UN to make sure that nothing inappropriate is going under their name and the need to promote certain messages/values within this context. However, If my understanding of the process is correct, i think this approach is taking away from the same viral strength of hosting such competition on YouTube. By applying the top-down monitoring of the process and taking away the ability to participate in judgment of the videos from the very beginning, I think the organizers will seriously limit people’s investment in the project and thus its potential impact. Of course those who will create the videos will stay tuned, but i would assume that they are a minority of YouTube users. Most people watch and not create. So taking them out at the very beginning may prove itself counterproductive. But we will have to wait and see. In any case it seems like an interesting step on behalf of UN.

Four more days left

November 22, 2007

Just stumbled upon a video promoting the “Give One, Get One” campaign of One Laptop Per Child.  So here it is:

The website where you can actually give one and get one is here.

I only wonder what they are going to do after November 26…

Positive News

November 19, 2007

Kind of inspired by the positive news project (whose US branch is actually located in Ithaca :) i decided to try and post some positive news here from time to time. So, here we go (some of it is not really new though).

Following my recent, not so pleasant, encounter in the blogosphere, i came across this website titled Middle East Youth (which i actually have seen before). It appears interesting at least in a sense that it has contributors from all over the region and it has some interesting and positive stories, that seem to escape mainstream media radar. For example here is a story of Israeli and Palestinian formula one enthusiasts who are going to compete together. And here is another story that people recommended in the comments about quite an old initiative where Israeli and Palestinian kids are brought together to play soccer. Actually i heard about the last one before and even met some people who have been involved. It was an interesting initiative and wonder if it’s still going on.

Although it appears small and insignificant, i think it is important that we remain aware of such grassroots (but not only) initiatives. The more of those we have, the more there would be hope for change (i even put a positive picture :).


And on a slightly different, but still positive, note I wanted to draw your attention to the approaching deadline for Stockholm Challenge submissions. It is a competition for an award in the field of ICT and development hosted by the municipality of (surprise, surprise) Stockholm. The deadline is Dec. 31. Good luck if you are applying!

ComFree update

November 2, 2007

It’s been a few month since i first wrote about the comfree idea, but since then i haven’t heard much from of the people who commented on it and, frankly, didn’t do a very good job in communicating about it. In fact, I did not manage to maintain the routine of first Saturday every month as much as I initially hoped. Life got in the way and sometimes i had to use the technology on the specific dates. It was particularly difficult to maintain while traveling. At the same time i tried to have at least a day a month when I do not use communication technologies. This was especially easy for example when, together with friends, I went for three days to Adirondacks :)

However now I am trying to bring the idea back on track. So, tomorrow is the first Saturday of November and i am going to take a break.