10 Apr 2009
Chris asked me to write a blog post about why Meedan is developing Swift.
The first thing to say is that there are a lot of very smart folks who are very enthused about Swift. Here is a partial list: Andrew Turner; Sean Gourley; Peter Kaminisky; Kaushal Jhalla; Chris Blow; David Kobia; Erik Hersman; Anselm Hook; Paige Saez; Mikel Maron; Ele Annand; The Ushahidi team; The Meedan Team; The Vote Report India Team, as well as Jamie Taylor, Jason Douglas and Freebase.com's incredible engineers and community.
It would seem that Kaushal (who Chris gives credit for having the idea) and Chris (ditto, vice versa) have tapped into a very important and timely idea.
Allow me to fumble for some words to describe what I think Swift means in the context of journalism generally and Meedan's work specifically.
Much has been made of citizen's journalism. And the existential crisis of journalism and print media. Death by drowning. The Boston Globe and the myth of objective reporting may both soon find a watery resting place in Davy Jones Locker at the bottom of the ocean of web noise. Did you realize there have been 14 bizzillion hetabytes of content created on the web in the last 12 minutes? And that this is as much information as was created in the previously 150,000 years? You get the meta-point, right?
We, it seems, may have made it though the cold war only to lose our civilization to a catastrophic Twitter-driven journalistic nuclear winter, which has LOLw00ted meaning, truth, and the Boston Globe..
Meedan has premised its work on giving people the ability to build a different understanding of the events that shape our world. We want people to be able to see Arabic reporting next to English reporting. We want to enable people to understand where in the big complex narrative surrounding these events there is agreement and where there is a divergent understanding of the players, sequencing, meaning, or context of a given event. We also want to allow our users to understand the provenance and slant of the media sources they are reading. (EG, How many American's know whether Aswat Al Iraq is a reliable and impartial media source? A: Yes, it is.) In all of these scenarios there is a need to enable users to annotate and markup various system objects--be they urls, tweets, other users, media sources, locations, or even events themselves.
In short, it is time to write (code) a citizen editor toolkit.
#buzzphrase: citizen editor, #citizeneditor, @citizeneditor, cited.com, etc.
While Swift was conceived in the context of crisis reporting (Kaushal and Chris are both volunteer team members for Ushahidi and Ushahidi convened the gathering that kicked Swift into high gear), we think that with the advent of the real-time read/write web, these tools naturally transpose to new media journalism. It is not surprising that tools for enabling large groups of individuals to triage and markup information in a crisis should also enable large groups of individuals to try to make sense out of the 578,943 Tweets, 135,832 user generated comments, 72,765 blog posts, and 437 mainstream media articles in 125 different languages which taken together describe the world's composite understanding of the 'Jordanian teen sells family pet to buy ipod' story.
Now, I have not talked about open standards, Freebase, and some other critical components of this project. Chris will blog about this soon. Until then you can listen to him riff on these idea in a video from the Ushahidi developer strategy meeting in Orlando