Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Web 2.0 for Activists and Community Organizers

These are the notes I used for my presentation during the breakout session/workshop, "Using the New Media" during Public Interest Alberta's third annual advocacy conference, "Beyond Band Aids and Bailouts: Public Solutions in Critical Times." My actual presentation stayed a bit from what I prepared, as I found myself faced with a number of questions concerning the use of Twitter. As a result, I did not spend as much time on the pros and cons of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 for Activists and Community Organizers

I’m Paula Kirman and for the past several years I have been documenting the local activist community through photos, videos, and writing. In doing this, I have been utilizing several Web 2.0 applications and platforms to both organize events and publish content afterwards.

How many of you are on Facebook? Facebook is popular with activists for good reason. You can create or join groups for organizations and causes. You can organize events by creating a page for the event with all of the details and then inviting people on your friends list. Using one message, you can contact everyone on an event or in a group to inform them of changes or other relevant information. Facebook also allows one to upload photos, videos, and write notes (which are similar to blog posts), but do not have the space allotments, ability to organize, or audience potential of other social networking sites that specialize in these areas. Which brings me to . . .


YouTube allows user to upload videos on practically any subject matter. YouTube converts the video file into the proper format for streaming, hosts it indefinitely, and allows the video to be shared with a user’s subscriber and friends list. Videos typically have to be shorter than ten minutes, so longer videos have to be divided into parts.

Flickr is a photo sharing website owned by Yahoo. Users can organize photos into sets (based on date or event) and sets can be organized into collections (based on themes, like peace marches, for example). There is an upload limit and limit to the number of sets for free users. Site members have unlimited use of the site for a reasonable fee (something like $25 per year Canadian). You can have a contact list made up of other Flickr users and be notified when they upload new content.

Blogging allows anyone, anywhere to be a citizen journalist. You can integrate your photos and videos from Flickr or YouTube into your blog, allowing one to write a full report of an event with visuals. After I upload my photos and videos I will often blog about an event, using embedded visuals or linking to the specific videos or photo sets.

Twitter is a microblog. In 140 characters or less, you answer the question: What are you doing? In some ways, it is like the Facebook status update. However, users are taking Twitter to another level by posting short news items, links to articles, and other kinds of timely information that can come across well in a soundbite. I often post direct links to videos, images, articles, and blog posts.

·By using YouTube and Flickr I reach a much broader audience than simply hosting videos and photos on my own website.

·Web 2.0 is cost effective for the average person, because most of the applications are free, or have a very small fee. Videos and images take up a lot of bandwidth and private hosting can get expensive.

·YouTube and Flickr allow users to directly post videos and photos to their blogs. The image or video can be embedded directly on the blog post.

·The ability for YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and most blogs to have content uploaded directly from one’s cell phone or portable device allows a media activist to report on things while they are happening.

·You don’t have to know any programming or formatting languages. All of the formatting functions you need to blog are right there on the screen. This is called “push button publishing.”

·The social networking aspect of these sites allows for user feedback and interaction.

·Some Web 2.0 applications allows one to integrate all of their social networking and new media in one place, such as FriendFeed and Tumblr. If you produce a lot of content, these are extremely powerful tools. Someone can go to your FrendFeed, for example, and get a total aggregate of all of your recent uploads, blog posts, Twitter posts, and so on. Facebook is also excellent for posting thing to from other websites.

·User Agreements/Content Ownership: we’ve heard a lot recently about Facebook changing their User Agreement to use one’s uploaded content in any way they wish, including after said content has been deleted. This is nothing new – other user-content based sites have similar agreements. This is a concern for many people, myself included who makes a living from my original content like photos. At the same time, we have the use of these websites for free (mostly) so this is the tradeoff.

·Privacy: The more things you upload and publish online, the bigger your online footprint becomes. This can be an issue depending on what you’re putting out there. There are people who have lost their jobs or not been hired because their potential bosses found photos on Facebook of drunken debauchery. So first of all, I would recommend never posting anything that presents yourself in a compromised situation. But in presenting our politics as well, we may be put into positions where we have to explain or defend ourselves, although as activists that is probably something we are used to. In terms of personal safety, on most social networking sites you can set your viewing permissions to only people on your friends or contact lists. I do this on Facebook, which encompasses both personal and professional information. However, my Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, and blogs are mostly public because this is how I communicate and present my work – but even with these platforms you can set your permissions to reflect your comfort level which what people can view. Use common sense – don’t post private information (address, phone number) on a public site.

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