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GV Summit Delhi '06 Session Four: Tools and Technology

The room is alive with post-coffee buzz, as this session, led by Salam Adil and Preetam Rai, tries to get under the skin of the tools and technology that would broaden out the range of people writing and reading blogs worldwide. In Salam’s twist on GV’s tagline,

The world is listening. Is GV talking?

Salam puts it in terms of getting the tools and technology out there, and getting a broader range of people to understand and use them. The next step for GV in particular might be, he suggests, encouraging more local people to blog, which could broaden the range of content on the site. As steps towards this, he pulls out four key areas: learning to blog, for the young and old; getting your blog noticed – or, as he puts it, “How I became famous”; getting blog content into other media, such as print; and staying safe, secure and anonymous as a blogger.

A blow-by-blow account after the jump…

Learning to blog

Salam and Preetam offer examples of teaching people to blog from opposite ends of the age spectrum. Salam approached his children's primary school, and offered to teach an after-school class for 9- and 10-year-olds to teach them HTML, to use Blogger, and then to update the school blog by FTP. One Cambodian organisation builds on the interests of young students – finding scholarships to study, developing the skills to create a website – by helping them use blogs initially as a productivity and project management tool, and then to share their own content.

But it's not just about encouraging younger bloggers. When you look at your family, says Preetam, it's usually your grandparents who talk the most – they generally have more time on their hands… Friends of Yesterday of Singapore ran a blogging workshop for senior citizens in Singapore, as a way of capturing and sharing their memories. There aren't that many contributing at the moment, but they expect this to increase.

Bloggers of all ages need guidance and training on, for example, how to avoid legal and copyright pitfalls when blogging, and Preetam suggests mini BlogCamps as one way of offering bloggers this kind of assistance.

Blogging101.com?

As well as conducting face-to-face training on how to blog, Salam asks whether it makes sense to build a central repository for blogging resources, with tutorials, and technical and other resources – but who will build it, and who will use it? It could be hosted at GV, as it sees traffic from areas that might find such a resource useful.

Simple web searches can lead to a bewildering amount of information, but building a repository would help direct potential bloggers to resources on more advanced topics like making multimedia content. There Salam could share resources on vlogging, with step-by-step tutorials on how to capture, encode and upload video and to CC Publisher, which helps users assign different levels of Creative Commons Licenses to the videos they upload. Preetam mentions that platforms like YouTube are now beginning to incorporate tools that allow users to record direct into the site from a webcam, making the process even simpler.

Jose Murilo Junior offers an alternative view from Brazil's Cultural Hotspots program, in which he says that, rather than making the kids participating in the project follow a set of resources on blogging, the project leaders encouraged the kids to customise the tools they wanted to use. Whether this might lead some of that content to be left out of global conversations because the platform it's produced on doesn't integrate with global content aggregators, as Jen Brea observes about some West African Francophone blogs, might be addressed by Ben Paarmann‘s call for services like popular global tools like WordPress to roll out in more local languages, such as Russian.

Ethan Zuckerman mentions the excellent In A Box series from the Tactical Technology Collaborative, which offers a set of ready-to-go tools, starting with NGO In A Box, and now including Security In A Box and Audio/Video In A Box. All packages use open source software and are already or can be localised into various languages.

Getting your blog noticed – or how Salam became famous

Once you have a blog, how do you get it noticed? In Salam’s case, he started blogging because his friends already had blogs, but his site was pretty much personal until he sparred with other bloggers, got trackbacks, and got picked up by Iraq Blog Count. His readership went through the roof, and the rest is history… After a particularly heated exchange between some Iraqi bloggers, Salam also created a space where Iraqi bloggers could share news, discussions and debate – a GoogleGroup called the Iraqi Blogodrome. This, and other groups like it, could prove a useful model for other ‘spheres.

A print edition?

Throughout the GV community, bloggers are trying to reach out not only to those who aren’t already blogging and want to, but to those who might want to read blogs and can’t, for technical or other reasons. Could a print edition be the answer?

Some of the very countries where local networks of bloggers or GV might want to publish print editions of blog content, are the same countries where it might be most difficult to do so. Preetam suggests that samizdat publishing (print, photocopy and pass on) might be a way to stay under any Ministry of Information’s radar.

In countries where publishing openly is less problematic, magazine-style print editions of local blog content might be able to attract income from local advertisers to cover production and distribution costs. People in the room also seem to feel that books of GV and other blog content could reach a very different and valuable audience. Could GV publish a book like the recent WorldChanging effort? But GV is a very different beast to WorldChanging, and Ethan feels that any GV book would need to define its audience pretty clearly before committing to such a potentially costly exercise.

But with a growing willingness among publishers to bring together content from around the world, as with the Sage Keywords Series from India, might there now be an audience to cater to? Tactical Tech's Open Publishing In A Box offers a comprehensive open-source solution for publishers. And could POD or print-on-demand technology play a role, allowing users to create their own books of GV content?

Ndesanjo Macha and Ethan remind us that mass media, particularly radio, are still by far how the majority of people consume their media worldwide, and that helping local newspapers and radio stations around the world connect with and cover their local blogosphere might generate more local interest and traffic – and eventually lead more people to blog themselves.

And if none of that works? Broadcast your podcast yourself

Staying safe, secure and anonymous

Many bloggers in the GV network do not blog under their real name, whether because they are blogging about sensitive matters, or it might compromise their professional position. But writing under a pseudonym is rarely enough. Quinn Norton, at the Summit for Wired Magazine, says that, rather than not having the tools to protect their identity online, the biggest problem for most users is not knowing that you should do so at all. Sites like ShowMyIP.com can give you a pretty good idea of what people can see about you (in fact, click the link to find out what you're leaking as you read this). If bloggers genuinely want to stay anonymous, at the very least, says Salam, they need to avoid posting personal pictures that might lead back to them, comments that might identify their workplace, and writing in a way that invites charges of libel.

There are plenty of examples of bloggers suffering from leaking privacy. One Iraqi blogger didn’t get into trouble for what he had written on his blog, but was picked up by the police after they read the comments under his posts… Another blogger writing about a political scandal in the face of a press blackout, was gagged by his Ministry of Information. After international pressure, he was allowed to write again, but only after he agreed to delete the offending posts. In the process, a whole group of his fellow bloggers were taught how to bypass censors.

Free and simple tools to help more bloggers do this are readily available. Salam suggests using TOR and proxies to conceal your work and home IP address. This helps bloggers to conceal their identity not just for what they post, but where they comment too. TOR is a relatively painless install, just download the installer, double-click the file, and it’s added to your browser, from where you can turn it on and off. Here’s an explanation of how it works. Privoxy works well as an additional layer of protection to TOR. It stops sites extracting information about you, and allows users to choose what to show and what to hide. Priyanka, a local blogger, suggests HTTP Tunnel, although this might be one for the more advanced user.

Ethan rounds up by reiterating that GV will soon have someone employed to do the advocacy on this exact issue, and part of their remit will be to develop guides on how to get around censorship.

And that meaty session took us through to the end of the day…

3 comments

  • Geeky as I may have sounded the other day :p , http tunnel is really really simple to use. Probably easier than setting up other tools on ur PC. One just needs to “Start” it and then change the http ports in all applications to socks ports (port 1080 instead of port 80/443)

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  • […] Language / Localization. Many also emphasized the importance of localizing tools and technology, for example, translating blogging platforms into local languages. […]

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