At the Saturday meeting of last weekend's second annual summit, Global Voices’ South Asia editor, Neha Viswanathan, facilitated a discussion about outreach: who is blogging, why some communities aren't blogging and how to make sure that blogospheres represent all voices.
(Photo by Jace)
The session focused on how to mitigate barriers to access, presented examples of current outreach efforts, and brainstormed possible new outreach projects.
Barriers to Access
Blogging without basic needs Several participants wondered how the poor could be convinced blogging could be of value to them. Working in rural India, Dina Mehta found the first question is often “What's in it for me?” Blogging may be a hard sell or perceived as nonessential in communities where many “are struggling with clothing their children, having bathrooms, or money for soap.”
One woman wondered whether blogging might not be an inherently elitist activity since most of those who do blog have the luxury not only of access to the internet, but of time. She commented that for those people are struggling day-to-day to survive, those who are better off might need to be the ones to represent their voices.
Others thought that if blogging could influence mainstream media coverage of poor or underrepresented communities, it would be a powerful way of of convincing them that blogging can bring concrete benefits.
Technological barriers. The cost of owning a laptop – as much as 30,000 rupies in India – was cited as a major obstacle to blogging. Even internet cafes, though prevalent in large cities, can be prohibitively expensive.
Ethan Zuckerman mentioned the One Laptop Per Child project as an example of a project to reduce the financial barrier to entry and to bring computers and the internet to an entire generation of children. “What will happen when a million children have access to this device?”
SMS and mobile phones, which one participant referred to as the personal computer of the developing world, was offered as a powerful, practical and cost-effective means of amplifying citizen voices.
Literacy. Basic literacy is another major obstacle, but many participants were enthusiastic about the potential for photos, audio and voice as a means of expression for those who cannot read or write.
Current Outreach Efforts
Ben Paarman, founder and editor of Neweurasia and a Global Voices Central Asia contributor, discussed Neweurasia's outreach efforts. The group plans to make 25 outreach trips in 2007 to the region to train bridge bloggers in Kazakhstan, Kygystan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan using a “train the trainers” model.
Southeast Asia Editor Preetam Rai presented examples from Timor, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Audience participants also offered their own experiences with outreach.
Shivam Vij, and an Indian blogger & journalist, offered by way of example Cybermohalla, a project which gives young people living in the slums of Delhi the tools to used and produce media for self-expression.
One outcome of the project has been Nangla's Delhi, a blog where Cybermohalla participants who live in Nangla Maachi write about their lives their and the fight against evictions and government-ordered demolitions. The power of media “is not to provide people with solutions, it is to provide them with a platform where they can express themselves and provide their own solution.”
Brainstorming New Projects
SMS Blogging, Mobile Podcasting. One participant pointed out that media is already “training a society of people to SMS in their thoughts,” for example, in response television show or radio program polls. One project might involve establishing a system for receiving and aggregating SMS messages or photographs captured by mobile phones for publishing online. Another participant suggested creating a system where villagers could use their mobile phones to podcast or submit their voice for transcription.
Oral Histories / Interviewing. GV human rights video editor Sameer Padania discussed the power of voice, of actually going out into communities and taking oral histories. Ishta, a Uganda American student studying in Delhi, suggested interviewing people, getting those who are already blogging to record or write “real human conversations.” Many people want to communicate what they care about, but don't necessarily have the time, means, or inclination to actually sit down and write themselves.
A GV Curriculum. Deborah Ann Dilley suggested using Global Voices as an educational tool for teachers to help them teach students about activism and other places around the world, and suggested developing lesson plans.
Digitizing Culture. Jose Murilo, GV's Portuguese Language Editor, works for Brazil's Ministry of Culture. Jose suggested creating projects to help kids digitize the art they are already creating – theater, dance, music – so that they have the means of reaching wider audiences.
Language / Localization. Many also emphasized the importance of localizing tools and technology, for example, translating blogging platforms into local languages.
Will empowered voices blog for the public interest?
Maria Seidel pointed out that even with the best outreach projects, empowered citizens would not necessarily use blogging for socially useful or activist goals. Others commented that most blogs are used to discuss “trivial” topics like movies and celebrity gossip, and that most blogospheres are dominated by technology and entertainment blogs.
However, Rosario Lizana and others argued outreach efforts need not worry about “the immediate qualitative gain.” Blogging should be fun. The key is to increase general technological literacy, to increase the number of people who can blog, so that “when the real needs arises, you already have these networks.”