Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Encouraging Innovation in Sierra Leone

Kelvin Doe (left) and David Sengeh at the Media Lab. Learn more about Kelvin. (Photo: Paula Aguilera)

At the Media Lab, PhD candidate David Sengeh is helping to change the world by developing next-generation smart prostheses. But this self-professed technology geek is also making an impact halfway around the world in his native Sierra Leone, where he’s launched Innovate Salone, a national high-school innovation challenge. Innovate Salone is funded by Global Minimum Inc.. “The idea,” says David, “is to encourage the country’s students to use their own ingenuity to solve some of their country’s most challenging problems–to lay the bedrock for national development.” The focus is on issues related to health, energy, education, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications, civic media, and engineering.

Read what David says about the project on CNN. [Update: here's another article, with a great video of David and Kelvin working at the Media Lab.] Interested in becoming a sponsors or donor? Send email to info@gmin.org.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Making Connections @ MozFest 2012

Is it even possible to describe the beautiful maelstrom of joy and creativity we experienced at the Mozilla Festival last weekend?  Three days of learning, design, and making across nine floors at Ravensbourne University left me feeling like I had fallen into a ball pit overflowing with magic beans from Jack and the Giant Beanstalk. Creative ideas were growing fast in all directions.

At the same time, the festival offered fascinating insights into how Mozilla facilitates their amazing community energy around transformational change towards an open Internet of makers.

Our Part in the Mozilla Festival

At the festival, the Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten group offered a variety of sessions on creative learning:

The Mozilla Festival also brings together a community of bloggers, journalists, and documentary film-makers to share idea and collaborate.

During the festival, I enjoyed liveblogging with the Mozilla team, finding out what young people made during the festival, and documenting Joi's keynote on Sunday. The high point for me was an amazing team effort with Matt, Rebecca, Paul and others to photograph and document every project during the festival's closing Demo Party. Inspiring!

I want to especially thank Gunner and Michelle Thorne for running a truly wonderful event, and for offering ongoing, supportive advice on how to facilitate great sessions.

Organizations as Networks
Mozilla is one of the organizations I point to when I talk about what it means to be a network and a platform rather than just an institution. To illustrate what I mean, consider the story of PopcornMaker, a video editor for the open web.

During the Sunday morning plenary, Brett Gaylor told the story of Popcorn.js, which started as a college student project. It has now been used in high-profile productions such as NFB’s One Millionth Tower, PBS and NPR’s 2012 election coverage, and more. In 2011, the creators of Popcorn.js brought it to the very first Mozilla Festival. A year later, they came to London to premiere One Millionth Tower. Now in 2012, PopcornMaker opens up open video creation to anyone on the web. Here's their story:

This year, I'm taking away three big lessons from Mozilla and PopcornMaker:

  • Networked organizations facilitate moments for innovation to arrive from the edges to meet the inspiration and connections to succeed. At #MozFest 2011, the popcorn.js developers found film-making partners to develop projects like One Millionth Tower.
  • Networked organizations offer innovators the structure they need to build and ship good products. In addition to connections, Mozilla supported Popcorn through bug tracking, a release schedule, and publicity to turn a great idea into a solid technology.
  • Platforms turn great hacks into visionary, transformational paradigms. Popcorn.js was a library for software developers. By creating PopcornMaker, Mozilla is extending its vision for an open, writeable web to video online for anyone.
As a grad student at the Media Lab, where Joi is re-imagining the Lab as a network, I'm excited to share inspiration and collaboration with such an amazing community. In all the creative unpredictability of the #MozFest's bag of magic beans, I think we're going to see some very tall trees grow.

Further Links:

J. Nathan Matias is a graduate student researching media consumption, creative learning, and community co-design at the Center for Civic Media.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Hackers @ Media Lab

This post by Media Lab Director Joi Ito originally ran on LinkedIn's Thought Leaders blog.

What do you get when you have a massive storm approaching, a bunch of MIT Media Lab hackers with the next day off stuck in their rooms waiting for the power to go out? You get #hurricanehackers of course.

We learned a lot about this during the Safecast launch after the 3/11 earthquake in Japan, and are seeing it now with #hurricanehackers.

One of the most important principles of what we do at the Media Lab is "practice over theory" or "just build it". It's a very effective principle in rapid response to natural disasters and other things where the ability to "pull" from the network and collaborate quickly and effectively are essential. One of the key elements is to make sure that you use all of the effective tools for collaboration and communication so that you don't duplicate efforts and you quickly aggregate and pull people together. Most of the obvious ideas get started by everyone and trying to find unique ideas while pulling together parallel projects is key.

One thing we quickly learned is that tools like Google docs and etherpad with their limit on the total number of participants were inadequate for the scale of collaboration we need. We ended up on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the pre-Web text chat protocol that survives today as one of the primary modes of communication among hackers.

We'll be hosting one of the number of CrisisCamps this weekend at the Media Lab. Please tune in or participate if you have time.

#hurricanehackers in Wired, Boing Boing, BostonInno