PopTech Blog

Speakers at Tonight's Social Mapping Salon in Chicago

Tonight, we are hosting a salon (a first for PopTech) on the theme of “Social Mapping and Social Change” at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago.

The salon is full (you can sign up for the waitlist on the invite), and we will have video and images after the event. Follow the @PopTech Twitter account and the hashtag #socmap for more during the salon (6:30-9:00p CST) tonight.

PopTech Executive Director, and host of tonight’s salon, Andrew Zolli spoke with Chicago Public Radio yesterday (audio) about the topics being discussed today at a private workshop and tonight at the salon—mapping technologies and timeliness, how social information can create change.

Tonight’s speakers include:

Katrin Verclas of MobileActive (this is a video of her from December 2009 talking about her work with Nokia):

Patrick Meier of Ushahidi (read excerpts of his thoughts on social mapping, below is a video on Ushahidi’s efforts in Haiti taken April 1, 2010 at the Where 2.0 conference):

Gary Slutkin of CeaseFire (this is a 2008 video from a Volvo For Life documentary series):

And the evening will conclude with an audience Q&A session.

Yesterday, PopTech staff spent the afternoon filming members of the Ceasefire community at work in their communities—we’ll share that footage with you in coming weeks.

filming in Chicago

Eddie of Ceasefire

We look forward to seeing everyone tonight and continuing the discussions started this week with you in this space soon.

Questions you would like asked at tonight’s salon? Please leave them in the comments below.

Reuniting Children and Families in Crisis Situations: The RapidFTR Project

Jorge Just of RapidFTR spoke with us briefly at yesterday’s ITP Spring Show 2010 at New York University (show continues this evening) about RapidFTR, a project that “helps aid workers collect, sort, and share photographs and information about children in emergency situations so they can be registered for care services and reunited with their families.”

Find out how the project began, why UNICEF asked the team to realize the concept, and how you can help.

As we continue to think about social mapping for the PopTech “Social Mapping and Social Change” salon this Wednesday in Chicago, RapidFTR is an excellent example of a project mapping people in crisis situations—in this case, displaced children, that benefits from a shared technological resource.

Thoughts on this project? Let us know in the comments.

Social Mapping Thoughts from Patrick Meier

As we prepare for the PopTech salon “Social Mapping and Social Change” in Chicago next Wednesday (there is currently a waitlist, and the event will not be streamed, but look for a blog post afterwards and tweets with the #socmap hashtag on Twitter), we are thinking about how social mapping might be defined.


One of the salon speakers, Patrick Meier, is the Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi (PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Erik Hersman and Ory Okolloh are part of the Ushahidi leadership team).

Patrick has blogged extensively on the topic of social mapping; here are a few relevant excerpts:

“From Social Mapping to Crisis Mapping,” December 15, 2008

Social maps are not drawn to scale and are not meant to be complete. The relative size of the symbols representing available resources and infrastructure may denote their importance to a community. Likewise, the relative distance on the map of these assets may also denote how accessible or inaccessible they are to the local community.

Social mapping excercises may capture tacit knowledge of conflict triggers that would simply not surface clearly using a computer-designed map. These maps provide “The View From Below” as opposed to the top-down myopic perspective of “Seeing Like A State.”

“Towards a ‘Theory’ (or analogy) of Crisis Mapping” August 25, 2009

Crises are patterns; by this I mean that crises are not random. Military or militia tactics are not random either. There is a method to the madnes—the fog of war not withstanding. Peace is also a pattern. Crisis mapping gives us the opportunity to detect peace and conflict patterns at a finer temporal and spatial resolution than previously possible; a resolution that more closely reflects reality at the human scale.

“Ushahidi: From Crowdsourcing to Crowdfeeding” March 27, 2009

…Second, local communities are rarely dependent on a single source of information. They have their own trusted social and kinship networks, which they can draw on to validate information. There are local community radios and some of these allow listeners to call in or text in with information and/or questions. Ushahidi doesn’t exist in an information vacuum. We need to understand information communication as an ecosystem.

For more, we look forward to next Wednesday’s conversation and Patrick’s talk at the salon.

How to Make a Magazine in 48 Hours

Editor’s note: Sarah Rich is a co-author of the book Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century and an advisory board member of PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Emily Pilloton’s organization, Project H Design. For more coverage of 48 Hour Magazine, see the team interview on Gizmodo and post on Big Think. The theme for the inaugural issue will be announced Friday, May 7th at 12p PST.

When the most common statement made about your industry is that it’s dead, there are two options: get out or make change. Of course many people in the magazine business choose a third option: stay in and complain about how bad things have gotten. It’s much easier to commiserate than to try to create something new; fortunately, sometimes one leads to the other.

48 Hr Mag

48 Hour Magazine was born out of a kvetching session a few months back among a small group of San Francisco writers. The three of us—Mat Honan, Alexis Madrigal and myself—all have one foot in the print world and the other on the Web, and we share a fervent interest in the future of media.

Our original idea was simple: Create a magazine from start to finish in two days. In the vein of rapidly produced and one-off publications, we were inspired by Strange Light, Pop Up Magazine, Ash Cloud Tales, and The Whole Earth Catalog. The implications are more complex. By its very nature, this is a project that would not have been possible even five years ago. While the final product—a printed magazine—is centuries-old, the process behind it uses none of the traditional tools of print. 48 Hour Magazine is a product of online tools, social networks, crowdsourcing, remote collaboration systems, and DIY creative services. We are operating with complete financial transparency and even physical transparency, by posting a live streaming video feed of our headquarters during the 48 hours of production.

So how does it actually work? On Friday, May 7, we will announce the magazine’s theme. Submissions will open and for 24 hours, anyone can submit writing, photos, illustrations or graphics through 48hrmag.com. At the end of 24 hours, on May 8, submissions close and our team of editors and designers will spend the next 24 hours selecting, designing and laying out the best content for publication in the magazine. At the end of the full 48, on Sunday, May 9, digital files get sent to MagCloud, where they become a print-on-demand magazine that travels to readers in the plain old mail.

It’s worth breaking down some of the key moving parts of the virtual machine that will crank out 48 Hour Magazine:

Website and Content Management System: We were lucky enough to get Dylan Fareed, a very talented web designer and developer, to build a custom CMS for this project. The robustness of his system will become clear as the project moves forward.

Twitter: Twitter was absolutely vital for getting the word out to our followers. It was the only publicity vehicle we used, to overwhelming effect. All six team members are pretty dedicated users and have strong networks.

Heroku: From what our web developer tells us, this hosting service allows us to keep our website humming with all the fancy submission bits without buying any servers or even a monthly account.

Magcloud: We’ll be using the print-on-demand service Magcloud. You upload a PDF and out pops a magazine on the other end. They handle printing, shipping, and sales.

Spot.us: Spot.us is a revolutionary new media project that began as a vehicle for crowdsourcing investigative journalism stories in the Bay Area. They have been expanding both geographically and functionally, and as a partner to 48 Hour Magazine they serve as a financial engine that allows us to take in all funds transparently and publicly.

UStream: To keep things lively, this online video service will stream all the action at the 48HR HQ, which will be housed at the offices of the stalwart magazine, Mother Jones.

Whether this collaboration will catalyze any kind of massive change remains to be seen, of course, but the concept has undoubtedly struck a chord. One week after publicly announcing the project, we have over 6,000 people signed up to be notified when submissions open. Our team—now totaling 6 members, with the addition of Heather Champ, Dylan Fareed and Derek Powazek—has our work cut out for us. We envisioned a manic production process, and that’s exactly what we will get.

We’d love to see some contributions from the PopTech community! You can add your name and email address to our list at 48hrmag.com to be notified when the theme is revealed and submissions open.

Video: Kyna Leski on Creative Processes

At PopTech 2009, architect and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) professor Kyna Leski spoke about the craft of architecture as an art form:

Leski encourages her students to pull away from assumptions about the creative process and instead learn to develop their own artistic sensibility by “knowing the world.” This occurs, Leski suggests, through the acts of gathering, seeing, and grasping.

During her talk, Leski spoke about an exercise she had her students do: taking a painting by Paul Klee and had them build the third dimension of the image using only white glue and white museum board. One student assigned height to the gradations of color so that his project, when held up to the light, closely resembled the work of Paul Klee.

Leski used this example to introduce her understanding of the creative process, suggesting that it relies on the process of discovery. For more on Leski’s teaching, you can check out her recent book, called The Making of Design Principles, which explores the first semester design studio at RISD.

As part of her teaching, Leski has expressed her “Ground Rules for Navigating the Creative Process.” These include:

- The creative process hold internal guides for a project’s development and guides an individual’s growth as well.
- Only by committing yourself to the authority of the work can you develop as artists.
- There is a power to limits.
- The whole cannot be seen from a single point of view.
- Words are essential to developing a consciousness of the creative process … an intimate felt experience of a “material language.”
- Everything is connected, somehow, from the astronomical to the metabolic.

These principles suggest an avenue for thinking about the impact of design throughout our lives.
What design principles do you think guide your view of the world?

The Cure for Innovation Inertia

Editor’s note: Kristina Loring manages content and community at frogdesign. Below, she responds to Kyna Leski’s 2009 PopTech talk about design and creativity, which will be released later today. For more background, see the liveblog post on Kyna’s talk, and read Kyna’s own response with notes on her talk.

Kyna Leski
cc image of Kyna Leski at PopTech 2009 by Kris Krug.

“Dwelling in uncertainty is key to growth and moving beyond the known through the imagination,” Kyna Leski told us at PopTech last fall. Leski, a principal at 3SIXØ Architecture and a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, is less concerned with what her students know than she is with their “journey towards knowing.” Leski advises her students to “reach for the ground to find that the ground isn’t there.” In that way they’ll be able to let go of their preconceptions about ways of working (or ‘knowing’).

For me, this talk was a call to action, a challenge to break out of the box in order to discover visions and solutions that exist but that are usually hidden by our own applied filters. Stepping outside of our learned systems — departing from our routines in order to enliven our perception — is the perfect prescription for activist fatigue, writer’s block, or, indeed, any kind of innovation inertia.

Leski shares her experience sketching a design for a chapel that would expand the size of an existing church and give it more light, room, and space (or as Leski says, “allow the space to breathe”). When she created the 3D model of the church she kept forgetting to add the spire because it wouldn’t work with her design. Leski began to wonder why the spire was needed at all, so she turned to a dictionary to find the original meaning of “spire” in order to gain some insight into its architectural significance. She found that it comes from the Latin word for “spirit,” and is the root of words like “inspire,” “respire,” and “spiral.” So, instead of creating the traditional spire on the church’s façade they incorporated it inside the space by interpreting the meaning of the word in the church’s walls. Leski literally shaped the interior walls into a spiral that was integral in helping the space “breathe.”

When Leski moved away from her medium of understanding (modeling and sketching) and focused on linguistics in order to understand how the notion of spire could be understood in a different context, she solved the design problem with an aesthetic solution that actually embodied the word’s original intention. It is only when our mediums are in flux that we can disrupt our routine and gain a new perspective.

Leski’s emphasis on “arriving somewhere other than where you expected” is the ultimate motivation to completely break routine in order to gain an understanding, not only of your design problem, but to engage with larger social and political challenges. Applying Leski’s mode of Material Reasoning — the process of working with material to find, form, and develop ideas — helps us prototype a new set of systems, norms, and structures instead of defaulting to old ways of thinking. Leski wants us to embrace the unknown and create a space for both receiving information and using that information to “form a concept of the world and our place in it.” In other words, just having information (which is made ever more accessible by Google and new forms of search engines like Twitter) will not be helpful in finding creative and socially impactful solutions if you aren’t able to transform that information into an action with personal resonance.

Leski’s idea has implications beyond just design. It is, in fact, related to creating social change and fostering communal and personal empowerment. It is a matter of stepping outside of the system we are working to change in order to gain an understanding of what is lacking or needed in that system. If you do that, you are able to dive back into the challenge, and contribute fresh new insights into whatever change you are trying to create in the community.

And You Will Hear Our Voices

Editor’s note: Teddy Ruge is the co-founder and senior project manager of Project Diaspora, an organization to energize “African’s economic, social, and cultural revitalization,” and a frequent blogger on issues of development in the African ICT sectors.

It is amazing how fast things change these days. In less than a week, a paradigm shift with the potential to affect the entire developmental aid industry occurred. In my opinion, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to the industry. The rapid-fire story goes something like this:

Successful individual wants to do something good to make the world a better place by giving back. So, after contacting some charities, said individual spends the better part of six months working out a plan to collect and send 1 million shirts to Africa. He leverages his successful business and media contacts to launch his campaign. If this were a Hollywood treatment for a movie script, the final sentence of this paragraph would be “..and then hilarity ensues.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything funny about this. The individual here isn’t some fictional character, but real life Jason Sadler, founder of iwearyourshirt.com, a company whose business model is built on him wearing a client’s shirt. The natural extension for a feel-good exercise was to do some good using the one thing that he knows: t-shirts. At least, that’s what he thought he would do.

Within hours of the #1millionshirts hashtag hitting Twitter, it was the conversation of the moment. My first full tweet went up at 9:04pm on April 27th, “As an African, I beg the 1 Mil Shirts campaign dies a slow death. We don’t need another industry-crushing initiative by clueless do gooders.” Fewer than 3 days later, I was in a round table discussion with Mr. Sadler and participants from five continents representing various sectors of the aid industry. Mr. Sadler delivered a heartfelt mea culpa. In quick fashion we started trying to come up with ideas on how to turn this into a successful project. (Big thanks to Katrin Verclas at MobileActive for organizing the round table.)

For the first time in the history of development, social media, philanthropy, development, accountability, logistics, common sense, top-down solutions, and recipient voices all collided in spectacular fashion. Right out in the open. A project was launched, summarily bashed, killed and redirected in the span of 70 hours of it going public. The conversation that started with a single tweet, turned into an avalanche of blogs ripe with disdain from the aid corner for yet another ill-concieved top-down, western-driven project. The conversation migrated from 140 characters of quibbles into full analytical blog posts, rants, and well-reasoned open letters for Mr. Sadler to reconsider the ramifications of his campaign.

The repercussions of this for the aid industry are yet to be determined, but I can share with you what it means for me as an African. For the first time, the voices of individual Africans were heard.

My own blog response which went up the day after my first tweet was rife with anger and disappointment. For too long we as Africans have stood by and let the world determine how we develop, how we speak, how we interact and how we govern. For too long we’ve been sidelined while our futures were determined in boardrooms in New York, Washington, D.C., and London. For far too long we’ve been told what the solutions are to our problems should be. We have even been told that we had problems that we didn’t even consider to be problems. Collectively, the continent has sunk into recipient mode. Our governments have been trained to rule in pursuit of the proverbial carrot dangled in the form of aid. NGOs, aid organizations, charities by the bushels have made careers out of working in the aid industry on the continent. Getting a job for the World Bank is a ticket to a six-figure salary and a driver in Nairobi, Kenya. Never mind that 50 kenyans could be on salary for what the individual in that position makes in a year. 40 years on since the end of colonial rule and $700 billion later, we still can’t point to a single country on the continent that operates without the need for aid.

Is there a genuine need for aid and charitable works? Yes, there is. But there is equally, if not more room for common sense. There is much more room for dialog with Africans like Marieme Jamme, G. Kofi Annan, and a host of others. There is room for complete projects vetting and determining the nuanced difference between dire need and perceived need. Jason Sadler’s project assumed Africa had a dire need for t-shirts but ignored our fledgling textile industries, the crushing weight of the second-hand clothing industries on the continent, and altogether dismissed our dignity as recipients of someone else’s crap. Dumping a million free shirts on these fragile and often informal sectors was a recipe for disaster, not to mention the needless expense.

So what does this really mean for us as an ever-increasing population empowered by the social media stage? It means we have the responsibility to start speaking up for our continent. We have right to say enough is enough with the hand outs, enough with the aid mentality, enough with the top-down solutions, and enough with being ignored on the global stage. Our voices count, and it would be good to partner with us—to have a conversation with us first—before any projects are started.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every aid project started with a genuine conversation? It would be amazing how effective aid could be just by listening and paying attention to the nuances inherent in every project. I applaud Mr. Sadler’s change of heart and willingness to listen to criticism that ranged from snarky to informed to blind rage. It is my sincere hope that this triggers a paradigm shift in the aid, philanthropic, and charitable industries. It is also my sincere hope that African voices are taken into consideration. In this connected world we live in, we are just a stone’s throw away.

Reporting Pain, Consuming Water: Presentations from the SVA MFA in Interaction Design

Last night, the students of the inaugural class of the Interaction Design MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York gave final group presentations on their work to professors, peers, and a lively audience ready for Q&A; two presentations are excerpted below, tackling issues of behavior change in patient pain reporting and daily hydration, after an introduction from Program Chair Liz Danzico:

For more on the SVA MFA in Interaction Design program, follow their blog and Twitter account.

Also of note, one of the professors in this program is PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Mentor Robert Fabricant of frogdesign (see his recent talk on creativity and healthcare).

Congratulations to this first graduating class!

Plastiki Lands on Christmas Island

Yesterday, the crew of the Plastiki, a boat made out of 12,000 plastic bottles, landed on Christmas Island after being at sea for about 40 days.

From the boat at sea, expedition leader David de Rothschild sent this video:

For more, you can track the rest of their journey, find out more about the boat meant to raise awareness about the health of the ocean, and read updates on their progress on their Twitter account, @plastiki.

Plastiki expedition tracker

For further background on the issue of the gyres and powerful images of albatross affected by marine garbage, watch PopTech 2009 talk from Chris Jordan, “Polluting Plastics.”

Congrats to the Plastiki crew and fair winds for the rest of the journey!

Announcing "Social Mapping and Social Change": PopTech Salon

What is social mapping?

How can geolocative info systems and visualization tech be applied to new fields for social change?

On May 12, 2010 from 6:30 – 9:00p (CT) at at the Graham Foundation in Chicago (4 West Burton Place, Chicago, IL 60610), PopTech will bring together three speakers (and a smart audience in this city of news aggregators and social good organizations) for a special salon event on the current and future impact of these tools.

Register here; event is free, and an RSVP is required (hashtag: #socmap).

PopTech Social Mapping salon


- Gary Slutkin, Executive Director of CeaseFire,

- Katrin Verclas, Co-Founder of MobileActive,

- Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping, Ushahidi

and you, in an audience Q&A after the presentations.

Hosted by Andrew Zolli, Curator of PopTech

PopTech would like to thank the Graham Foundation for the Arts for their generous support of this program.

Note: This event will be held in the ballroom on the third floor which is only accessible by stairs. The first floor of the Madlener House is accessible via an outdoor lift. Please call 312.787.4071 to make arrangements.

Questions? Let us know in the comments. We hope you will join us on the 12th!