Journalists must set the tone for their communities

Robert Niles has a must-read post on the Online Journalism Review about the role that journalists should play in terms of interactivity and community on their sites. Online communities need leadership: Will journalists provide it, or will someone else? he writes:

…writing in any interactive environment is an act of leadership. Your words, your tone and your style not only inform your audience, they provide a model – an example – for those in the community who will write for that community, as well. And your silence creates a vacuum of leadership that others may fill.

Since my career shifted six years ago to become more interactive, I am often asked how to get ‘them’ to be nicer. The ‘them’ is always those nasty commenters, members of the public who aren’t as pleasant or as deferential as journalists would like them to be. I respond that the blogger or journalist sets the tone of interaction. If as a columnist, you write a link-baiting attack piece, expect a counter-attack. If a journalist actively invites constructive participation from readers, over time, that journalist can build a positive community (rather than a passive audience) around his or her journalism. The key part of that comment is ‘over time’. It takes time and effort to build a community. It doesn’t take much time or creativity to whip up an angry mob.

The initial response I always get is that sharp writing sells and that I’m somehow advocating overly polite pablum instead of incisive commentary. First off, poisonous communities don’t sell. They don’t sell to most readers, and they damn well don’t sell to advertisers. It’s really interesting the different responses I hear when talking about some high profile engagement-based comment sites. People in the media laud them as visionary, ground-breaking and industry leading. When I speak to members of the public, they call the same sites toxic, offensive and aggressive. I often joke that a lot of publishers engagement strategy is really an enragement strategy. Find the hot button issues of the day and push those buttons until they bleed.

I’m also drawing a distinction between journalism and comment, which is getting awfully blurry these days whether online, on air or in print.

Robert talks about a ‘ladder of engagement‘, and I’ve written about taking the concepts of ‘leveling up’ from gaming and applying it to news communities. I’m not necessarily talking about gamification of news but rather increasing rewards for increasing levels of participation. Robert has some good ideas in his post, and the entire idea is that we’re building loyalty and engagement.

Loyalty is the new currency of the online realm. If you look at the difficulty that major, major news websites are having in creating a sustainable business around high volume traffic, you can see that millions of unique users aren’t necessarily the key to success. It’s about pages per session, dwell time or time on site. A smaller number of highly engaged users can often be more valuable, especially when those users are focused on some high return verticals.

‘You’ journalists must be part of your community

However, putting the business side of things aside for a moment, the resounding message from Robert’s post is that journalists need to be active in our own news communities. We set the tone. If you’ve ever been to a good party or dinner, the host brings people into the discussion. The host introduces new topics, and he or she makes sure that a number of voices and points of view are heard. Whenever I’m out at such a dinner, I come away feeling invigorated and better informed. Without journalists playing this role in our news communities, we’re not only abdicating responsibilities for the conversation on our sites, we’re missing a huge opportunity. I love the quote from Arthur Miller:

A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.

In the past when a newspaper was defined by the paper, that conversation was a construct, and the conversation was very limited in who could participate. Now in the digital age, that conversation is a reality. It’s a lot more raucous of a conversation, but it’s also more inclusive. My passion is public service journalism, and journalists who can host such a great debate (not just kick off one) are rare. It’s a new skill, and I’m glad Robert has provided such great advice in how to hone that skill.

As our communities and our countries face such pressing problems and challenges, it’s imperative that journalists join these discussions and help foster them. We do that implicitly by providing people with the best information that we can find, but we can also engage our audience to be more active in making these key decisions.

Three years ago, I was back in the US covering the presidential election. One of the people I interviewed, Ralph Torres began following me on Twitter. The day after the election, he wrote this to me on Twitter:

[blackbirdpie id=”991306753″]

We have the opportunity to pull our audiences further into critical civic conversations but we have to seize it, not believe that interaction is only for ‘them’.

Hacking the BBC

I spent several months last year working with a team of people, including Kevin, on a retrospective of BBC Backstage, which has now been released as a free ebook. As I wrote for the introduction:

BBC Backstage was a five year initiative to radically open up the BBC, publishing information and data feeds, connecting people both inside and outside the organisation, and building a developer community. The call was to “use our stuff to make your stuff” and people did, to the tune of over 500 prototypes.

This ebook is a snapshot of some of the projects and events that Backstage was involved in, from its launch at Open Tech 2005, through the triumph of Hack Day 2007 and the shot-for-web R&DTV, to current visualisation project DataArt. We take a diversion to Bangladesh to see how a Backstage hacker helped the World Service keep reporting through the horrendous Cyclone Sidr, and look at the impact of the ‘playground’ servers, used inside the BBC.

Backstage’s mandate, throughout its history, was for change. It changed the way people think, the way the BBC interacted with external designers and developers, and the way that they worked together. So what remains, now Backstage is no more? The legacy isn’t just a few data feeds and some blog posts. Backstage brought about permanent change, for the people who worked there, for its community of external developers and for the BBC. What better legacy could one ask for?

Jemima Kiss has written a great piece on The Guardian about it:

Night has finally fallen on the visionary and quietly influential five-year project that was BBC Backstage, a collaboration of ideas, experiments and talent that informed and defined some of the corporation’s best technology work.

Now set to be replaced by a cross-industry developer network – a repository for data from many media organisations and tech companies – this special corner of the BBC devoted to developers has been wound down.


Woolard talks of Backstage in three phases: creating a space to make this kind of experimentation and open innovation possible; engaging the developer community; and a third stage that takes these findings and this attitude of openness further across the BBC and its output. He points to last year’s BBC 2 series Virtual Revolution, which explored the impact of the web, and was heavily influenced by the R&D TV project led by Rain Ashford, which also filmed wide-ranging interviews with high-profile technologists and allowed viewers to cut and shape footage for their own use.

Now, says Woolard, it is normal to talk about openness, innovation and working with external developers – and he claims the BBC is “fully technology conversant” in what it needs to do.

Backstage was born on the same day as the Open Rights Group, on 23 July 2005 at the Open Tech conference. I was rather busy bootstrapping ORG whilst Backstage was getting off the ground, but I kept my eye on it nonetheless.

Backstage and ORG had a lot in common beyond their birthday – a desire for more openness, a fervent dislike of DRM, and a strong DIY ethic. We also shared a community: many of our supporters were also Backstagers. In many ways, we were two sides of the same coin, with ORG campaigning publicly for change, especially around DRM, and Backstage working the inside line. I like to think we had a nice pincer movement going on.

Backstage had some amazing moments, most notably HackDay at Ally Pally, which I sadly missed due to being on a plane at the time. Spending time last year reading over old blog posts, it was great to be reminded of what a vibrant community Backstage built and what groundbreaking work they did, especially with events. Most importantly, they redefined expectations around open data and standards.

Congratulations to everyone who was involved in Backstage, and huge thanks to the Hacking the BBC team!

Journalism: Opening up the ‘insider’s game’

I met Jonathan Stray this past summer when I was speaking at Oxford, and I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with him on Twitter and on his blog. He’s smart, and if you’re thinking about journalism in new ways and thinking of how we can, as Josh Benton puts it, change the grammar of journalism, then you definitely want to add his blog to your RSS feeds.

I noticed Jonathan was having an interesting exchange with Amanda Bee, the programme director of document hosting project DocumentCloud, about the need for a service to help her get up to speed on an unfamiliar news story. I captured their conversation using a a social media storytelling service called Storify.*

In writing about information overload, one of the solutions that Matt has advocated and explored is the wiki-fication of news. Reading Matt and also based on my own experience as a journalist, I think there is another solution that involves journalists bringing their audiences along with them as they explore topics in-depth. In 2004, when I started blogging as a journalist, I turned Fox News’ tagline “We report, you decide” on its head. I said: You decide. I report. In describing this to Glyn Mottershead, who teaches journalism at Cardiff University, he called it concierge journalism. Put another way by Matt, having a good journalist around is like having a secret decoder ring to explain the news.

Editorially and socially we need deep engagement strategies like this. It’s not just about promoting our content to the audiences using Facebook an Twitter. It’s actually about engaging with them so that they will spend some of their precious time and attention following news rather than the myriad of other entertainment and information choices they have.

There are some important issues and challenges with this approach. One is an issue of scaling. When I started blogging in 2004, I had support at the BBC News website to manage the interaction and help with the production. You need that level of support to scale to that level of audience and also that level of engagement. I also think there has to be a better way to capture all of the insights and intelligence that this approach captures. A traditional style blog probably is a little too simplistic, although smart use of tags, meta-data and categories can overcome some of it.

Matt put the challenge to status quo this way:

I started to realize that “getting” the news didn’t require a decoder ring or years of work. All it took was access to the key pieces of information that newsrooms possessed in abundance. Yet news organizations never really shared that information in an accessible or engaging form. Instead, they cut it up into snippets that they buried within oodles of inscrutable news reports. Once in a while, they’d publish an explainer story, aiming to lay out the bigger picture of a topic. But such stories always got sidelined, quickly hidden in the archives of our news sites and forgotten.

As Jonathan says, this is serious problem worthy of serious discussion. It’s one that I think a lot of about, and there aren’t any easy answers. It’s complex and it really does require a lot of rethinking of not only how we present journalism but also how we practice journalism. As I’ve found, it’s much easier to change technologies and change the design of websites than it is to convince journalists that they need to change how they do journalism. Technology is easy to change. Culture is devilishly difficult to change because so many people, very powerful within organisations, have an investment in the status quo.

The difference now as opposed to any other time in my career is that there are new news organisations that don’t have a status quo. They have no legacy operation tied to another platform. They are digital.

* A few words about Storify: This is the first time I’ve used it. It’s the embedded element highlighting the conversation on Twitter. It’s a system that makes it easy to build a story out of content from the social web, whether that is tweets, Facebook updates, Flickr pictures or YouTube videos. The drag-and-drop interface is nice, and the built-in search makes it easy to find the content and conversations you want.

In terms of adding text in between the updates I wanted, I found a few tools missing that I’ve grown used to in my normal blogging. One was paste and match (or strip) formatting so that when I copy a quote from another site I’m not cluttering up the page with lots of different fonts and type styles. I’d also like blockquote. It might be available by simply adding the HTML, but with a tool like Storify, this would definitely be a good shortcut.

In terms of Storify, I’ve watched with interest as social media journalists have embraced it quickly. My quibble with it hasn’t been in the tool itself but with how it’s been used. I’ve seen some instances where it seems little more than a collection of tweets and actually seems to be doing exactly what Amanda and Jonathan are worried about, playing an insiders game. They assume knowledge of who the people tweeting are. Collection without context is poor journalism.

Making it easier to climb the ladder of participation

There is no such thing as a perfect participation platform when it comes to building engagement around news and other content. Too often we try to outsource to technology what are really social functions that have to be done by human beings. In terms of social media journalism, the best examples come from journalists actively engaging with people to involve and engage them with news, information and their communities.

Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow Joy Mayer has a great interview with Denise Cheng who works on a local community news site in the US state of Michigan. The interview is chock full of gems of what it takes in terms of mindset to be a social media journalist and community wrangler. I also really like the last paragraph talking about how Denise works to build participation.

Denise said she works to build investment and ownership in The Rapidian. She wants folks to plug in at any level they feel comfortable with

But engagement isn’t just encouraging interaction. Denise wants to make the ladder of participation easier for people to climb up, with lots of manageable steps, from the bottom (wearing a Rapidian pin around town) up to things like contributing content and helping distribute it.

It’s a really great post with a community journalist working to build a deep sense of engagement and participation not only with her site but also with the civic and social life of her community.

The social side of citizen science

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit, listening to a series of presentations about how the public are collaborating with scientists to achieve together what neither group can do alone. It was a fascinating couple of days which illustrated the vast variety of projects either running currently or in the pipeline. We’ve all heard of SETI@home, but there are projects now across a diverse set of disciplines, from botany to history, astronomy, meteorology, particle physics, seismology and beyond.

What was notable, however, was that the majority of the projects were about volunteers donating CPU cycles rather than brain cycles. Where communities were mentioned it was generally in passing, and when community tools were mentioned they were almost invariably forums/bulletin boards.

I had hoped to here more from the different projects about community churn, retention tactics, development tactics, social tools, and other such things, but was not totally surprised to see that most presentations focused on the science instead. There was a discussion session scheduled for Friday evening to talk some of these issues through, but I sadly couldn’t stay for it. Nevertheless, I think that the social and community aspects should have been discussed throughout the two days.

It is obvious that there is tremendous overlap of interests between the citizen science community and the social collaboration community, and there are lessons both parties could learn from each other. I’d love to see some sort of round-table organised that brought the two communities together to discuss some of the issues that citizen science faces. In lieu of that, here are a few ideas to hopefully get an online discussion going.

The forum is not the only tool
I don’t think it’s a surprise that those projects which do have a community component tend towards having a forum of some sort. They’ve been around for ages and for many people they are the default discussion tool. However, we’ve come a long way since the forum was invented and there are many social tools that are more suited to certain types of tasks.

Wikis, for example, are much better for collecting static (or slowly evolving) information such as help pages. Blogs are good for ongoing updates and discussion around them. UserVoice is great for gathering feedback on your website or software. A community is a multi-faceted thing so often needs more than just one tool.

Facebook is not a panacea 
During lunch on Friday I did get to talk to some of the other attendees about social media. Facebook, of course, came up. Whilst Facebook is a massive social network, one has to be very careful how one uses otherwise it can be a massive waste of time. Facebook Causes, for example, was said by the Washington Post to have raised money for only a tiny percentage of the nonprofits that used it. I myself have seen how Facebook encourages ‘clicktivisim’ – the aimless joining of a group or cause that isn’t followed up by any meaningful action.

Facebook as a platform, however, is a more interesting proposition. Facebook Connect allows users to log in to your site using Facebook and lets your site post updates for the user to their wall. And Facebook apps may allow citizen science to be done actually on Facebook rather than requiring users to go to another site. In this way, Facebook shows promise, but starting a group or a page and hoping that people will just go off and recruit users to your project is unlikely to be successful.

Twitter is a network of networks
Where Facebook is sitting in the kitchen being introspective over a can of cider, Twitter is the extrovert at the party. Although Facebook has more users (~500m), Twitter is now at ~150m users and growing at 300k per day. More to the point, however, Twitter is easy to use, more open, and Tweets that go viral really do go viral because it’s not just your network you’re reaching, but a network of networks. The potential value for recruitment and retention is huge, if you do it right.

Design apps to be social from the beginning
If you’re creating software for users to download and run, think about how you could make that social. The social aspects to your project don’t need to be managed exclusively on a separate website or third party software. If it makes sense for what you are doing, build in sociability.

Most of these tools are free
I’m guessing that most citizen science projects have little funding. Where social media is concerned, the good news is that the vast majority of key tools are free. The not-so-good news is that you do need to understand how to use them, which could take some investment in terms of training and consulting, and you need time to maintain your online presence. A good consultant will help you understand how to work social media into your work life so that it doesn’t become a drain on resources, but you must have some time to commit to it.

This is where JISC and other funding bodies could really help: by allocating specific funds to raising awareness of social tools in the science community, providing training, ensuring that projects can afford to work with outside social media consultants, and even by helping project leaders understand how to find a good social media consultant (sadly, there are lots of carpetbaggers).

The opportunity afforded to citizen science by social media is enormous, regardless of whether a project is focused on CPU time or more human-scale tasks. Now let’s start talking about how to realise that potential!

Janos Barbero, The challenge of scientific discovery games

FoltIt is a protein folding video game. Proteins are chains of amino acids, and they form a unique 3D structure which is key to their function.

Distributed computing isn’t enough to understand protein structures. Game where you try to fold the protein yourself. Game design is difficult, but even more difficult when constrained by the scientific problem you are trying to solving. You can’t take out the fiddly bits. But players have to stay engaged.

Approach the game development as science. Collect data on how people progress through the game so that they could change the training so that they found it easier to do the difficult bits. Also use that info to improve the tools. Had a lot of interaction with and feedback from the players.

Also analyse how people use the different game-tools to do the folding, and see two in particular were used consistently by successful players.

Emergence of game community. Seeing people getting engaged. Had a fairly broad appeal, demographics similar to World of Warcraft.

Second milestone was when players started beating the biochemists, emergence of ‘protein savants’, had great intuition about the proteins, but couldn’t always explain it.

Have a game wiki so people can share their game playing strategy. Each player has a different approach, can use different game-tools. People develop different strategies for different stages of the game.

Humans are comparable or better than computers at this task.

Multiplayer game, they form groups or clans which self-organise, many groups have people who focus on the first phase, others focus on the endgame.

Effect of competition, as one person makes progress, others try to keep up.

Users can share solutions, network amplification.

Humans have completely different strategy to computers, can make huge leaps computers can’t, often looking at bad structures that lead to good, which a computers can’t.

FoldIt is just the first step in getting games to do scientific work. Problem solving and learning through game play. Looking to find ways to train people into experts, generalise to all spatial problems, streamline game synthesis for all problems, and create policies, algorithms or protocols from player strategies.

Expand from problem solving to creativity. Potential for drug design, nano machines and nano design, molecular design. Aim is to create novel protein/enzyme/drug/vaccine that wouldn’t be seen in nature.

Also want to integrate games into the scientific process. Design cycle: pose problem, get public interest, run puzzle, evaluate-analyse-modify-run-repeat, publish.

Elizabeth Cochran, Distributed Sensing: using volunteer computing to monitor earthquakes around the world

Quake-Catcher Network: Using distributed sensors to record earthquakes, to put that data into existing regional seismic networks.

Aim: To better understand earthquakes and mitigate seismic risk by increasing density of seismic observations.

Uses new low-cost sensors that measure acceleration, so can see how much ground shakes during earthquakes. Using BOINC platform. Need volunteers to run sensors, or laptop with sensors.

Why do we need this extra seismic data. Need an idea of what the seismic risk is in an area, look at the major fault systems, population density, and type of buildings.

Where are the faults? Want the sensors in places where earthquakes occur. GSHAP map, shows areas of high seismic risk near plate boundaries. Most concerned with population centres, want sensors where people are, so can get community involved. Looking at cities of over 1m people in areas of high seismic risk.

Construction standards in some areas mean buildings can withstand shaking. But two very large earthquakes took place this year e.g.: Haiti was a bit problem because they have infrequent earthquakes and very low building standards. Chile, had relatively few deaths, and even though some damage, the buildings remained standing.

Seismic risk, look at what happens in the earthquake fault. Simulation of San Andreas fault, shows how much slip, a lot of complexity in a rupture. Very high amplitude in LA basin because it’s very soft sediment which shakes a lot.

Need to figure out how buildings respond. Built 7 storey building on a shake table and shook it, with sensors in and recorded what happened to it. Shake table can’t replicate real earthquakes perfectly. Also have many different types of structure so hard to get the data for them all.

Instead, use sophisticated modelling to understand what happens along the fault, propagation, and building reaction.

Simulations now much more detailed than observed, so no way to check them.

Need to add additional sensors. Seismic stations run upwards of $100k dollars each. Can’t get millions of dollars to put up a sensor net.

Instead use accelerometers that are in laptops, e.g. Apple, ThinkPad, which are used to park hard drive when you drop them. Can tap into that with software in the background to monitor acceleration. Can record if laptop falls off desk or if there’s an earthquake.

External sensors can be plugged into any computer, cost $30 – $100 each, so inexpensive to put into schools, homes etc. Attached by USB.


Location, if you have a laptop you move about, so need laptop by IP, but user can also input their location which is more exact than IP. And user can enter multiple locations, e.g. work, home.

Timing, there’s no GPS clock in most computers, and want to know exaclty when a particular seismic wave arrives, so do network time protocol and pings to find the right time.

Noise, get much more noise in the data than a traditional sensor, e.g. laptop bouncing on a lap. Look at clusters. If one laptop falls on a floor, they can ignore it, but if waves of laptops shake and the waves move at the right speed, they have an event.

Have 1400 participants globally, now trying to intensify network in certain places, e.g. Los Angeles.

Use information for detection of earthquakes, then look at some higher order problems, e.g. earthquake source, wave propagation.

Had one single user in Chile at the time of the earthquake. Software looked at current sensor record and sees if it’s different to previous. Info sent to server after 7 seconds. Soon after earthquake started, internet and power went out, but they did get the date later.

Took new sensors to Chile and distributed them around the area. Put up a webpage asking for volunteers in Chile and got 700 in a week. Had more volunteers than sensors. Had 100 stations installed.

There were many aftershocks, up to M6.7. Don’t often have access to a place with lots of earthquakes happening all at once, so could test data. Looked for aftershock locations, could get them very quickly. Useful for emergency response.

Had stations in the region and some had twice as much shaking as others, gives idea of ground shaking.

Want to have instruments in downtown LA. Have a high-res network in LA already but station density not high enough to look at wave propagation. If put stations in schools, then can get a good network that will show structure of LA basin.

Will also improve understanding of building responses. You can look at dominant frequency that a building shakes at, if that changes then the building has been damaged.

Want to make an earthquake early warning system. An earthquake starts at a given location and the waves propagate out. If you have a station that quickly record the first shaking, and you can get an location and magnitude from that, then because seismic waves travel slower than internet traffic you can get a warning to places further away. More sensors you have, the quicker you can get the warning out.

Working with Southern Californica quake network to see if they can integrate two sensor networks. Also working with Mexico City to install stations, as currently only have a few stations. If any one of them goes down, it affect their ability to respond.

Matt Blumberg, Society of Minds – a framework for distributed thinking

GridRepublic, trying to raise awareness of volunteer computing. Provide people with a list of BOINC projects, can manage all your projects in one website.

Progress Thru Processors, trying to reach people in Facebook. Join up, one click process, projects post updates to hopefully reach volunteers’ friends.

Distributed thinking – what can be done if you draw on the intellectual resources of your network instead of just CPUs. How would you have to organise to make use of available cognition.

What is thinking? Marvin Minksky, The Society of Mind, “minds are built from mindless stuff’. Thinking is made up of small processes called agents, intelligence is an emergent quality. Put those agents into a structure in order to get something useful out of them.

Set of primitives

  • Pattern matching/difference identification
  • Categorising/Tagging/Naming
  • Sorting
  • Remembering
  • Observing
  • Questioning
  • Simulating/Predicting
  • Optimising
  • Making analogies
  • Acquiring new processes

Another way of thinking about it, linked stochastic processes, try stuff randomly, then explore those approaches that seem to be giving better results.




Mark Hedges, Sustaining archives

Archives, physical or digital. All sorts of documents, but many are important to historians, e.g. scraps of paper from early days of computing can be very important later on.

Time consuming to find things. Dangers to sustainability – stuff gets lost, thrown away, destroyed by accident or fire.

Digital archives, easier to access, but often funding runs out and we need them to last.

NOF-Digitise programme, ran for 5 years, ended 6 years ago, awarded £50m to 155 projects. What happened to them?

  • 30 websites still exist and have been enhanced since
  • 10 absorbed into larger archives
  • 83 websites exist but haven’t changed in 6 years since project ceased
  • 31 no URL available or doesn’t work.

Arhives can die

  • Server failes/vanishes
  • Available but unchanged, becomes obsolescent
  • Content obsolete, new material not included
  • Inadequate metadata
  • Hidden archives, stuff’s there but no one can find it
  • Isolated (from the web of data)

Can we involve the community? Most archives have a focus, so there may be a community interested in it.

Can exploit the interest of specific groups for specific archives, e.g. Flickr tagging of photos. But this can be too libertarian, open to misuse. Not appropriate for more formal archives, e.g. tagging often too loose.

Middle way between professional cataloguers on one hand, free tagging on the other.

Split work up into self-contained tasks that can be sent to volunteers to be performed over internet. Problem with free tagging is that it’s insufficiently accurate. Use task replication to get consensus, calibration of performance, etc.

Apply this methodology to digital archives and cultural heritage collections. Want to sustain and enhance the archives. Want specific communities to adopt archives to ensure longer term prospects.

Very early stage project, TELDAP, rich archive of material relating to Chinese and Taiwanese cultural material. But doesn’t have high visibility worldwide. Needs metadata enhancement, etc.

Great Ormond St Hosp historic case notes, e.g. Dr Garrad, chronological view of his case notes. Transcription, mark up key ideas, cross referencing. Specialised knowledge required, so community is retired nurses, doctors, etc.

East London Theatre Archive Project, contains digitised material from playbills, photos, posters. Images have metadata, but there’s a lot of textual information which hasn’t been extracted and isn’t therefore accessible.

Experimenting with variety of tasks: transcription; identification of ‘special’ text,e.g. cast lists which could be linked to list of actors, or play type.

Some images have text but it’s quite complexly arranged in columns, sections, with embedded pictures. So not entirely easy. Would be useful is to divide images into their different section and classify them according to their nature.

Hybrid approach, OCR them first to produce rough draft, then get volunteer contributions rather than starting with original image.

Ephemeral materials produce very important information.

Communities. Different communities: people with intrinsic interest in topic, e.g. academic, professional; local social communities, e.g. schools; history groups, genealogists; international pool of potential volunteers with E London ancestors.

Size of community less important than having an interest in a particular topic. Important to identify people who have an interest in the fate of the archive. Small groups.

Issues to address. Open-endedness of the tasks makes it hard to asses how well it’s going. Can also attract people with malicious intent.

Want to develop guidelines for this sort of community building.

How are volunteer outputs integrated with professional outputs? Resistance from professionals to anyone else doing stuff.

Having volunteer thinkers as a stage in the project, one could have more complex processes, after the volunteers have done stuff, can get pros in to do more specialised XML mark-up, so have a ‘production line’ to make best use of everyone’s skills.

Getting communities to participate in related archives might help people preserve their cultural identity in an increasingly globalised world.

David Aanensen, EpiCollect – a generic framework for open data collection using smartphones

Looks at a number of projects, including which tracks MRSA spread, and Bd-Maps which looks at amphibian health.

Have been developing a smartphone app so that people in the field can add data. Use GPS so location aware, can take in stills/video.

EpiCollect, can submit info and access data others have submitted, and do data filtering. Android and iPhone versions. Very generic method, any questionnaires could be used for any subject.

Fully generic version at Anyone can create a project, design a form for data collection, load the project up, go out and collect data, and then have a mapping interface on website that you can filter by variable. Free and open source, code on Google Code. Use Gmail authentication.

Drag and drop interface to create form from text input, long text, select single option, select multiple.

iPhone app is free. Can host multiple projects if you want. Once you load the project it transfers the form. Can add multiple entires on your phone. Can attach video, stills, sound. Then data sent to central server. Can actually use it without a SIM card, will save it and then upload over wifi.

Can also edit entires and add new entires via the web interface too. Have also included Google Chat, so that you can contact people directly through the web interface.

Data is mapped on Google Maps, which gives you a chance to see distribution, and can click through for futher details. Also produces bar graphs and pie charts.

One project was animal surveillance in Kenya and Tanzania. There’s also health facility mapping in Tanzania. Archeologists dig sites in Europe. Plant distribution in Yellowstone National Park, encouraging visitors to collect data. Street art collection, photographing favourite tags.

Very simple to use, so people can develop their own projects.

Open source so you can host it on your own server, just a simple XML definition.