Rising Voices, Helping the Global Population Take Part in the Global Conversation

Thanks to the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Global Voices is now starting a new outreach project, Rising Voices, which aims to spread the benefits of citizen media to regions, languages, and communities that are currently underrepresented on the conversational web.

Rising Voices will serve as the third arm of Global Voices’ triad of amplifying independent voices worldwide, advocating for their right to free speech, and providing universal access to citizen media tools as is described in our founding manifesto. To better understand how our focus has evolved from mere aggregation of worldwide blog content to this new pro-active initiative of spreading social media tools to underrepresented populations, it is worth looking back to 2004 when the Global Voices Manifesto was first drafted and at how far we've come since.

In December of 2004 – still before the explosion of weblogs and podcasts that have now become unavoidable parts of our daily lives – Global Voices co-founders Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon invited bloggers from around the world to convene in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the second day of the Berkman Center's Conference on Internet and Society. These blogging pioneers from Malaysia, China, Iraq, and beyond agreed that we were witnessing the dawn of a new era of communication in which individuals around the world were finally able to take advantage of the decentralized web thanks to the availability of self-publishing tools like blogs and podcasts, which radically transformed every computer into its own printing press and radio station.

This post isn't meant to perpetuate the idealism that dominates the rhetoric around citizen media; just the opposite. However, it's still worth looking back over Global Voices’ first two years and recalling some of the stories and conversations that exemplify what happens when ordinary citizens are given the power to make their voices heard, to tell their own stories.

In March of 2005, President Askar Akayev’s administration in Kyrgyzstan collapsed under the protest of what soon came to be called the Tulip Revolution. Via the newly buzzing blogosphere, we were presented with accounts, photographs, and analysis in real time as developments unfolded. The same was true a week later in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party extended its control over the country despite widespread allegations of vote rigging. In April 2005, Ory Okolloh gave Global Voices readers their first introduction to Kenya's nascent blogging community which started with a strong foundation of government watchdog blogging that continues today. A month later, it was Ndesanjo Macha's turn to give us our first look at the Swahili-speaking blogosphere, which at the time numbered no more than fifteen.

We were also given immediate reaction when Iranian blogger-favorite Dr. Mostafa Moeen lost in the first round of the 2005 elections and again in August when local bloggers protested newly elected President Ahmadinejad’s cabinet nominees. While Wikipedia became the go-to location for up-to-the-minute information about the July 2005 London bombings, Global Voices offered the initial reactions of Muslim and Arabic-speaking bloggers from the Middle East and North Africa. The debate over the Central American Free Trade Agreement was and continues to be made personal. Not only has Iraq become a nation of importance to us all, but so have individual Iraqis thanks to the dedicated coverage by Salam Adil.

We all debated the gray area between free speech and inciting violence following the publication of the infamous Danish cartoons. Likewise, last year's World Cup in Germany took playful web nationalism to a new level. Nepal's April Revolution of 2006 was a daily part of our information consumption thanks to the tireless citizen reporting of Kathmandu's booming blogosphere.

There is no doubt that the widespread enthusiasm for sharing local stories with global readers which defines Global Voices is a step closer toward a world that favors dialogue and understanding over ignorance and brute force.

But these past two years have also taught us that certain regions of the world and certain demographics within those regions have benefited from the boom in citizen media more than others. Most bloggers and podcasters still tend to be middle or upper-middle class. Most have a college-level education. Most live in large cities. And of the 70 million weblogs now tracked by Technorati, 95% of them are written in just 10 languages. The truth is, what we often call the ‘global conversation,’ is a privileged discussion among global elites.

We are currently developing a curriculum of multilingual, how-to learning modules which will assist workshop leaders and citizen media evangelists who want to explain to friends and peers how to start blogging, podcasting, and video-blogging.

We will also soon be announcing the first round of microgrants for innovative project proposals that extend the reach of citizen media to communities that are otherwise unlikely to come into contact with new media tools like blogging and podcasting. Stay tuned for more information about how to apply for a grant and please feel free to write in with any concerns, comments, or suggestions at outreach@globalvoicesonline.org.

More information about the Knight Foundation News Challenge awarded to Global Voices is available at the Berkman Center website.


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