Tools from yesterday’s discussion

Alexis from FOLD here—thanks for the great discussion yesterday!

Here are some of the tools and resources mentioned during my presentation:

  • Storify
  • Genius
  • Embeddable Context Cards by Vox
  • Sketch (alternative to Adobe Illustrator, also allows you to create interactive prototypes. $99, but cheaper with a student discount)
  • Balsamiq (another prototyping tool, draws interface elements in a “sketchy” style, which can be really useful for getting honest early-stage feedback)
  • Meteor.js (Javascript framework we used to build FOLD)

If you’d like to give FOLD a try for one of your assignments this semester, head over to to make an account. You can log in with e-mail or with Twitter (signing up with Twitter allows you to embed tweets in your stories).

We’ll be releasing lots of new features over the next month. Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback! You can reach me at alexis [at], or on Twitter: @alexishope / @readFOLD.



Can we use Peer-to-Peer transfer technologies to upload videos from mobiles?

It was during an impromptu assignment back in India few years ago that I first found this problem. I could shoot a video while covering an event, but sending it down to my editor using mobile data connection proved tough. My chance of being a pioneer in my bureau and earning some ‘brownie’ points with my editor were soundly dashed. To cover-up my frustration, I blamed poor data connectivity and was under the impression that it was a problem we face only in India. I was proved wrong when I came to the US in 2014. Anyone with a T-Mobile connection in Medford Campus of Tufts University would attest to the fact that ‘no signal’ is not a beast that troubles souls selectively.

Pun apart, my understanding about the limitation that I was facing in uploading videos through data connectivity of a mobile was again challenged when I took a video of my three-minute pitch and tried to upload the file on to my Box Folder, I could not send a 100 MB file through my mail. This time I was on Harvard Wi-Fi and viola, my mobile crashed again and again. I was forced to concede defeat and transfer the files onto my computer and well, rest is ‘going to be’ history.

These experiences taught me something interesting, for a person to shoot a video and upload it onto a website without using any of the apps being provided by the likes of YouTube or Facebook, could face a serious problem as both the strength of data connectivity and the ability of a handset to handle large file transfers can decide whether a data transfer can be made successfully in the first place.

With the definition of journalism changing fast and live streaming and quick video uploads becoming a norm in journalism, the ability of a journalist to not just shoot a video but also to upload it becomes a key prerequisite in their trade. But this ability can be severely compromised if he or she is working in a place with spotty data or Wi-Fi connectivity.

Is there a possible answer?

One of the issue we face in huge file transfers is that in the event of a disruption, the entire transfer fails. I think this could be addressed with the possibility of breaking down the file into manageable packets and transferring it them in sequence, my like peer-to-peer torrent transfer.

Peer-to-peer transfer technologies are also coming of age. For example Terranet is testing its Mesh technology to connect mobile devices without the necessity of having a data connection. If these incredible peer-to-peer transfer technologies are harnessed, I feel that we can create a process that can be used by journalists in creating and distributing multimedia files even from the remote places. While I could not find a product that does this function yet, I guess we can explore the possibilities of tackling this issue this semester.

Timemapper.js and timeline.js

There are lots more examples on the respective sites!



I assumed everyone had heard of these tools (and honestly I wanted to geek out a bit about blockchain!), but in case you haven’t here you go! They are both easy to use, and work seamlessly with Google Docs. They embed well (Timeline better than Timemapper as you can see), and are compatible with any CMS or webpage.


The biggest drawback is design continuity. The baked in design is nice by itself (phew!), but there’s not much one can do in the way of quick customization. Fortunately the project is open source, and it looks as though the team at Northwestern has made updates to help developers dig into the code. So, if you’re part of an institution that wants your timelines on brand it’s possible to make it your own.

Otherwise, just fire up a Google Doc (each site has templates to help you get the formatting right), spent some time entering data, and you’re ready to publish! Timemapper allows you to quickly and easily tell multi-dimensional stories using, you guessed it, a timeline, a map and some content. Timeline is just the timeline and the content. In many cases, though, that’s enough. I like the concept of showing space and time together, but if your story doesn’t need the extra vector, why force it?


It’s really nifty, and crazy easy!

My [future] tool: Uliza

I heard the phrase “digital divide” for the first time about six months ago. As someone just sticking their toe in to the larger debate around ICTs, net neutrality, and zero-rating products, it’s been a slightly overwhelming dive down the rabbit hole to say the least. It has also lead me to the tool I’ll be introducing today: Uliza.

What is it?

Uliza, which means “ask” in Swahili, is a telephone service that leverages existing technologies in voice recognition, cloud-computing, and translation to provide access to information for the 4.5 billion people who are off-net or illiterate in a major internet language. It is currently being developed for market in East Africa by a team of graduate students at The Fletcher School, MIT, and UC Berkeley.

How does it work?

Anyone with a phone can call a toll-free number, ask a question in their own language, and receive an answer through an automated service, at no cost.

Caller experience:Uliza caller process Back-end experience:Uliza backend process

Why does it matter?

With only 5% of the world’s languages available on the internet, representing linguistic diversity online continues to be a major challenge. Uliza is one product in growing suite of tools which seek to bridge the information divide between networked and un-networked communities. The original three-person team behind Uliza — who collectively have more than a decade’s worth of experience working in East Africa — chose to roll out Uliza in Kenya due to the high adoption of mobile technology, even among low-income population, growing telecom industry, and a need to scale Swahili-language resources.   



Vojo and mobile phone storytelling

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.38.33 AM

The mobile phone storytelling platform Vojo, which was developed by the Civic Media Lab, may be familiar to many folks from the PartNews community. It was developed after another mobile phone story telling platform VozMob achieved such success that it could not serve the needs of the various interested parties and as a result Vojo was generated. Unlike VozMob, which was developed with a specific community in mind, Vojo is intended to be a flexible platform that can be utilized by any organization to match their activist and storytelling needs.

The platform is great for organizations looking to collect stories from a lot of participants. It is easy to engage with as a user or organizer and allows people with no training on the specifics of the technology to share their stories for a specific cause or issue. Furthermore participants do not need to have a smartphone which makes the platform highly accessibly to a variety of different communities.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.39.16 AM

To use Vojo an organization would set up a profile and then be provided with a phone number. They share that phone number with their participants who then either 1) call in to leave a voicemail with their story or 2) send a text message with their story. Additionally Vojo has the ability to geolocate the information sent by the participant so that the organization can map the stories as well.

Setting up an account is very easy and can be done in less than 10 minutes. After the account is set up all stories that come in to that organizations phone number are aggregated in one page and can be downloaded to be edited or uploaded to another site.


You can find examples of what different organizations have done with Vojo at the website.

Christina Houle


Central, Southern and West Texas feel like home to me but prior to living in Cambridge I spent my time in NYC working as a socially engaged artist and teacher of digital media arts.   I have worked as a producer for the public art nonprofit Creative Time and the land advocacy organization 596 Acres. Additionally as a film maker I have worked in partnership with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a nonprofit that partners activists with artists to design participatory products to promote civic engagement. As a leader on the Urban Investigation team I worked with youth in the Bronx to make a short film about how the cost of public transportation is decided in NYC.

At the Grand Central Neighborhood Drop-In Shelter for the Homeless I worked for a year as the first Director of Community and Arts Programing and at Harvard I currently work as the Digital Communications Assistant for the Making Caring Common Youth Advisory Board as well as a Senior Digital Editor for the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy. Last fall in collaboration with the African American Student Union at the Harvard Graduate School of Design I designed and implement a civic leadership mapping project with youth from underserved Boston communities.  The project provided tools for youth to map local racial inequity and helped them to horizontally organize with other youth to raise awareness of the issues at stake and seek solutions from local policy makers.

Prior to living in NYC as the recipient of the Andy Warhol Foundation Idea Fund Grant I worked for a year on a film and performance protest series called Migration Patterns During Wartime along the Us/ Mexico Border. The project protested changing immigration policy and practices in Texas and Alabama. Older projects on trauma, parafictions, and identity swapping can be found on my site

My current research investigates how civic leadership is changing in the digital age and inquires how activist pedagogy can be taught to youth in this shifting media landscape.

Storymaker 2’s Got your back!

Storymaker 2

A journalist friend was complaining the other day how she was employed as a journalist when she first started her work. Her job was reporting the news. Then one day she was asked to be a journalist and Facebook updater. Then she became all that AND the Twitter person for her newsroom. After that she was asked to not just write stories, but take photos and do audio and video as well…

As tech innovations fly into newsrooms across the world, few organisations take time to think and plan about who will be assigned what tasks or about the training needed to make journalists proficient in using various digital media tools.

Enter Storymaker, a journalism app that has recently released version 2. I love this app! It takes one through some very simple steps of filing a video, audio or photo story, giving useful prompts of what exactly to capture at various points. It then compiles the video, audio or photo story for easy publishing to your favorite platform.

There are a number of templates to work from and you can download lessons and guides to help make you not just a better user of the app, but more aware of the elements of good journalism in general.

Right now, the app is only available for Android, but a chat with a representative of the Guardian Project, who have taken over development of Storymaker, revealed that the iOS version is on its way.

Meet Fungai Tichawangana

Fungai TichawanganaMy story began in the late 1970s in Harare, Zimbabwe and it’s been endless chapters ever since. One of those chapters had a part that said in 2015 Fungai was awarded a Nieman Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University and a Nieman Berkman Fellowship for Journalism Innovation at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and thanks to that sentence I am here today.

But before that chapter, before that sentence, I was a young entrepreneur in Zimbabwe, wanting to use the web to do big things; build ‘online skyscrapers’, tell stories and explore new possibilities. With some friends, I started a web development business in the year 2000 and the plot got so thick that it led me to online journalism and down a very winding path to a place where the online publication I launched in 2008 started winning national awards.

In the foreword somewhere it talks about how I love stories and history and photography and Zimbabwe and tech and sadza served with covo in peanut butter sauce and road runner chicken (aka free range what what).

Ndini wenyu,

ReCode: Newscape Mirror

Aspire Mirror Reimagined…

How does your media exposure and news diet impact your external and internal perceptions? Is there a way to reflect on your “newscape” that can support a range of goals aimed at consuming or producing a specified palette of news.

In the future, I believe half-silvered mirrors can be combined with digital surfaces and ccd sensors to enable individuals to analyze their newscapes in a way that evokes more empathy and reveals the perceptual impact of their news diet.


I have started this exploration with the creation of the Aspire Mirror. The Aspire Mirror is a device  that enables you to look at yourself and see a reflection on your face based on what inspires you or what you hope to empathize with.

The Aspire Mirror currently works by presenting an inspiration panel that offers six lenses. At present, these lenses are set to evoke reflection on

  • Oneness with nature
  • Dedication
  • Humility
  • Self Actualization
  • Harmony
  • Faith


By using similar underlying physical components and changing the software, I am interested in how the mirror can become a platform in the participatory news space. What news lenses can be created? How can we shape the way in which we experience the news or interact with media?


Screenshot 2016-02-10 06.56.46

Let’s imagine the mirror as platform and create new lenses and filters through which we can experience and experiment with news. One immediate exploration we can do is incorporate evocative art that then points observers to more information about a topic.

For example, the singer Usher released Chains on Tidal. The site with your permission tracks your eyes and only plays if you stare into the eyes of victims of violence. In a very literal way, Usher asks us not to look away. When you do look away or go to another tab in your browser, the music stops.

Since the website uses a black background, it offers a perfect backdrop for an Aspire Mirror. Anything that is black behind a half-silvered mirror does not shine through, hence black space translates to an unaltered reflective surface. The result of adding Chains as a lens to an Aspire Mirror is that the face of victims now can be reflected on to you. How does this change your experience of the song or method?

Inclusion in Tech: (Tangental, yet related note)

Screenshot 2016-02-10 06.52.14

Programmed Tech Exclusion? Message on the screen reads, we are struggling to detect your face. Keep trying or click for the non-interactive experience.

Since my undergraduate days at Georgia Tech, I have been working with computer vision and using  open-sources libraries like OpenCV. The algorithms at times reflect the lack of inclusion in the tech space in non obvious but important ways. Commonly used face detection algorithms are trained by providing a set of images that are described as human faces. The faces that are chosen impact what the software recognizes as a face.  A lack of diversity in the training set arises to an inability to easily characterize faces that do not fit the normative derived from the training set.

As a result when I work on projects like the Aspire Mirror, I am reminded that the training sets were not tuned for faces like mine. However, we can do something about it. We can use the power of the crowd to create training sets that reflect more diversity. While there are overfit problems to contend with since training set size and accuracy do not have a perfectly linear relationship, we can create new methods that can better handle diversity in human faces. We can recode the system. And as the founder of @Code4Rights, I would be more than happy to explore this further.

**Is being coded out a benefit when considering issues of privacy?**

Smart Mirror Space:

The materials to create smart mirrors are widely accessible, and internet tutorials on how to make one have been around for a couple of years. One dad made a fantasy magical mirror for his daughter. The smart mirrors of the past tend to focus on sartorial uses, cosmetic application(Augmented Reality) or health monitoring (Wize Mirror) of some kind. More recently, a Google engineer has incorporated a news feed into a DIY smart mirror.

The question is no longer “can it be done?”, the question is “what now shall we build?”. How do we build inclusively?


Anyone who wants to explore the mirror as a platform or recoding face detection should let me know. Tweet me @jovialjoy