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Ethan Zuckerman: beyond the wisdom of the flock

[Read Ethan’s notes]

Ethan Zuckerman is giving his first TED talk today in Oxford. He’s a long-time friend, a well-known blogger, tech entrepreneur, thinker and visionary. For the last few years he’s been a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Democracy at Harvard. He’s the founder of Global Voices, and one of the best real-time bloggers in the world.

Ethan Zuckerman

Ethan starts off talking about football, the world cup and Galvao birds and his confusion around this meme coming alive. He also learned that this is a prank, relating to Lady Gaga and also a leading commenter (Carlos Eduardo) for football. The lesson you can take from this, is that you cannot go wrong as long as you ask people to be activists online by only tweeting a phrase.

What happens on the social network, that you choose to interact with the people you want to. Therefore, most people don’t realize how many people of different demographics are online doing things as well. Ethan brings up the fact that 24% of Twitter users are African-American.

The prediction of the past decade were that there was a utopian vision for the future online. He brings up Negroponte’s “Being Digital” book.

It turns out that in many cases, atoms are much more mobile than bits.

We look at the infrastructure of visualization. From a macro-level view, it looks like everything is flat and connected. However, when you look at what actually happens, you realize it’s not all what it seems. There’s a virtual sky-bridge between London and New York, but not Africa.

International news is another area, one that Ethan is very interested in, where we see that the amount of international news in the US is less than any time in the past. It turns out that new media isn’t necessarily helping us that much. He shows a map of the total number of Wikipedia articles that have been geocoded. In the UK you can pick up a newspaper and read news from everywhere in the world. You probably won’t. You’ll read your own.

Imaginary Cosmopolitanism – we have the ability to see and read about things happening all over the world, and the infrastructure to do it, but we don’t.

Global Voices is his project to bring together news from all over the world using bloggers from those areas. Raising Voices is a program run by GV to get more people working on social media, especially blogging. Ethan brings up Foko in Madagascar as an example.

Global Voices is also about translation in these other countries. He brings up Yeeyan in China who pick articles every day and translates them into Chinese (due to the horrible news coverage). He asks, if there is Yeeyan for Chinese, where is the group translating from Chinese to English?

“The wisdom of the flock” – congregating around news with people who are probably very similar to you. Skilled human curators are able to do this, they are virtual DJs who bring together information and news that push people outside of their norm.

AfriGadget image brought up. He talks about my work around blogging in Africa and that I’m a bridge figure (blogged before by Ethan). The bridge figures are the way the world will get wider on the web.

Xenophiles are different, they’re people interested in areas of the world that their normal demographic isn’t. They then visit and translate that world to others.

We have to figure out how to re-wire the systems that we have.

My Favorite African Tech Blog Reads of the Week

This last week has seen a higher than average number of great technology blog pieces by a number of people. Here are my favorites.

Bankelele writes about Professor Calestous Juma with a review of a talk that he gave on how Africa can use technological innovation to stimulate economic recovery, spur economic growth and spread prosperity.

Aptivate gave us their Top 10 Rules for Designing Low-Bandwidth Websites. This is a goldmine, every web designer in Africa should print this out and hang it above their monitor.

Jon Gosier gave us a Comparison between On- and Off-network GSM Rates in Nigeria. Proving that, “with the exception of Etisalat, it’s quite clear that it’s cheaper to own four cell phones than one [in Nigeria].” (I hope this data makes its way to African Signals)

Ethan writes about Mike Best and his team’s work in post-conflict Liberia around digital storytelling.

South Africa’s popular mobile social networking application, Mxit, is now at 14 million users. “MXit users currently send approximately 35,000 messages per second during peak times and visit the system more than 20 million times per day.” Wow!

Bill does a review of Ndiyo, the thin-client computing solution for Africa. Specifically, on how Ndiyo “provides an alternative to traditional Western notions of how technologies should be deployed, used and paid for in developing countries”.

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