Online video sharing, lessons for development?

Have online tools for uploading video content finally come of age? Rather are they relevant to Humanitarian and Development work as opposed to teens in San Francisco? Or how far do they need to go before they can really start being used to support field work?

Of course bandwidth is as ever a problem, but these days there is content delivery technology that can solve that problem, enabling the uploading of files to be automated to specific times, only upload when prioritised usage (emails, voice) is curtailed, it can even be managed so that the same computer can upload or download digital information over different connections automatically as it is unplugged and replugged, such as moving from office to home or hotel at short notice.

Film from a video camera, normal digital camera or web cam is becoming the media of choice, new generations are reacting to this media the way some of us got excited over digital photo’s and MP3… no lets be honest emails! Google’s purchase of YouTube placed their number of unique visitors at 120 million in September, sure their communities of interest sit largely in the US, but the shift to view all content text, audio, photo, film as interchangeable, shareable content will quickly become standard.

Metacafe has developed an interesting approach where they use it to help talent thrive. Unlike YouTube they reject duplicate films and use 100,000 volunteers to peer review content, then like Wikipedia have them write and vet articles. Finally of course they use algorithms to analyse, sort and rank video’s and over time develop the highly valuable database linking customers to content. Individuals can use this as an effective medium to show their talents in film-making or acting, by licensing video’s to Metacafe indiviuals have successfully used this to become noticed, and make revenue from their work.

The development community has long depended on peer review and participation to ensure that ‘best practice’ rises to the top and can be shared easily, however we have been poor at introducing the use of technology. Of course I am being slightly unfair, IRC (Water and Sanitation Centre) for example is one of many that has been using the internet for many years to share content with specialist research, training and advisory centres around the world for many years, seeking to build capacity through joint projects. To a certain extent its distributed organisational structure depends on the internet and members are investigating possibilities to work with participatory new media approaches. Similarly The Provention Consortium depends on a thiving networked organisational approach, in this case encouraging institutions to support each other in furthering disaster risk reduction.

However we have to recognise that new tools require new approaches, there is increased attention in the western world on humanitarian and development issues. Not least because technology entrepreneurs have turned multi-millionaire Philanthropists.

I for one believe that we should find means to garner the talent, ideas and community experience of these entrepreneurs and the young to engage them in development and humanitarian work beyond merely interest, concern and fund raising.

Whether this means more formal approaches such as linking schools and organising for raw footage from developing countries to be made available for editing as they choose into documentary footage by youngsters in the west. Supporting artists and small businesses getting their skills and wares to western audiences or highly informal approaches that simply enable families to make their own camera footage, and tell their stories so that they may be uploaded to commercial sites in country and shared online.

Alternatively video and audio diaries or weblogs and podcasts could form part of the remit of professional staff as they undergo operations as a monitoring, assessment or evaluation tool humanitarian.info comments on such an approach by Christian Aid in Tajikistan. Heck for the sake of transparency why not put this in the public domain, uploading as possible. Have you ever thrown you heart and sole into a monitoring report, only to discover that the important recommendations were passed over?

There is alot we can learn from the increased openness in sharing information publically, I trust the entrepreneurs and enthusiasts riding this wave, look to broader horizons. Their experience and skills are needed lets see how we can open their eyes to another exciting, challenging and rewarding world in humanitarian and development work.

Nomadic bloggers need each other… & bloggers in the communities they serve.

I suspect this is a ritual undertaken by most blog novices… a very early stab at blogging about blogging, which inevitably falls far short of the mark! Fortunately humanitarian and development workers are fascinating people that makes such a compilation a true pleasure.

Forgetting the numerous blogs that appear to be acting more as portals to information on a specific place or organisation there are an ever increasing number of single issue or single interest blogs clearly designed to change attitudes and help drive advocacy. Anita Roddick has an interesting advocacy blog at HIV is everyones problem, then there are the informative NGO blogs for example Aids Orphans Rising. What concerns me more is that since we are purportedly focused on supporting self reliance, local response, sustainability in development, humanitarian and development bloggers need to find a way to proactively support local advocacy initiatives, lets at least conciously seek out and promote the best!

Of course it is a pleasure to surf the numerous personal blogs from those starting out in their careers Erika in Lanka, to professionals on the ground Dili-Dallying, and mozamblog from a US physician. Then there are nuggets tucked away like delightful child stories by Sahelsteve at Voice in the Desert and the entertaining Lucky White Girl. Sadly these can be temporal affairs, Sleepless in Sudan shutdown in February 2006 on the authors departure, this just demonstrates one way in which the blogging humanitarian community can gain by keeping close and in touch. We need each other like any nomadic population.

Sadly, or rather fortunately we also work, dedicated blogs will become ever more valuable sources of networking and information, and encourage non-tech familiar workers to set up support sites. Tsunami is a good example, others seem to be more organisation focused, but they are not the worse for it, te comprehensive ODI site is now complimented by a blog. Although I note it is questionable whether an edited organisational blog is just that.

Of course the true stalwarts of blogging must be those individuals who singlehandedly mix work and prose craft through dogedly registering essential documents, updating us on exiting developments and keeping us informed of trends. Humanitarian.info by Paul Currion gets my award for now… but I am only just out of Afghanistan so it may get knocked off my top spot in the next few months!

I have no doubt that participatory media in its many forms from blogs and wiki’s to podcasts (and thats just for now!) will transform the way the humanitarian and development communities communicate, share and manage information and advocate on critical issues. We are really just at the start of this shift, ever the optimist, I am confident it it will also ensure a better understanding and closer relationships between nomadic humanitarian and development workers and the communities they seek to serve.

Commercial Online collaborative tools are ‘aid’ ready

Despite huge advances in the useability and functionality of online tools to support working remotely whether it be from home, on the road, between offices or between country. There has been minimal adoption of such tools beyond the obvious by humanitarian and development workers. Of course there are a number of dedicated organisations serving the humanitarian workers (see future blog XXX) however it is time to take a fresh look at commercially available off-the-self-software.

Remote Meetings: gotomeetings online service designed to support any remote meetings with collaborative presentation options and a few extras. Such meeting tools can tansform the regularity of meetings and of course let us know if others are not online as with chat services.

Sharing documents and folders: Foldermail is a new online service that is designed for the simple transfer of folders (and contained files) with a range of options that suit the needs of individuals, organisations or global corporations sending or updating documents remotely. This neat application integrates into Outlook (MS Office) and can be operated stand alone.