Old and New Collide at Harvard Art Museum’s Lightbox Gallery

In November 2014, after the three stalwarts of the Boston art scene–the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum–became one institution under the Harvard Art Museum, a smaller, experimental gallery launched within its walls under the masterful direction of Harvard’s metaLAB, “an idea foundry, knowledge­-design lab, and production studio dedicated to innovation and experimentation in the networked arts and humanities.” The space was designed to push the boundaries of an otherwise traditional museum space through, “digital experiments and new media projects that respond to collections held at the Harvard Art Museums.”

The entirety of the room is covered with screens, projectors, network jacks and various other necessities that would make any experimental artist salivate. But what might make this gallery most exciting is the juxtaposition of next-generation tech, and the traditional artworks of the museum.

Nothing feels more well-suited to this surprising marriage than the upcoming video exhibiton “YOUR STORY HAS TOUCHED MY HEART,” opening May 23. The exhibition highlights the truly extraordinary American Professional Photographers Collection, over 20,000 photographs depicting American life in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The photographs depict the hopes and dreams—and fears—of Americans as they imagined themselves at their best. Your Story Has Touched My Heart combines these photographs with new video footage, sound, and fragments of text that put the work in dialogue with memory, individuality, ephemerality, and the meaning of visual abundance as these images find their way in the digital realm.

– metaLAB

A special screening will be held on May 25, followed by a discussion of the video and corresponding works by the metaLAB’s Matthew Battles and Sarah Newman, in concert with one of the APPC’s curators, Professor Kate Palmer Albers.

The 20,000+ collection is impressive both in its size and the consistent quality of the photos and negatives. To gain more exposure before the event, follow our Boston Bot on Twitter, and receive periodic links to images in the collection!

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!

Posted in All

Hello, My Name Is [Insert Name]


Hi World!

I’m Adrienne, a former news technology catalyst and current jack-of-all-trades at the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. I also moonlight as a Research Affiliate at the Center for Civic Media. A designer by training, and a coder/hacker/maker by nature, I enjoy being a bridge for cross-disciplinary teams. I even worked in sales, once upon a time!

During my tenure at the Boston Globe, I began studying the development and evolution of online communities which continues at HBS and MIT. After being tasked with managing the dreaded comments section of a major media outlet, I became more interested in why certain online communities flourish and others wither. What causes people to treat others as words on a screen, rather than humans on the “other end of the line?”

In my spare time, you’ll likely find me on a mountain somewhere: rock climbing, snowboarding, or just hiking to a remote lake in the middle of a forest.

Posted in Bio

Media Verification Through the Crowd

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.43.55 PMPhoto courtesy http://istwitterwrong.tumblr.com/

One of the greatest challenges for journalists, especially conflict journalists, is the validation of user-generated content. Was this picture really taken in Homs? Was it taken at the time my source alleges? Google image searches catch some more obvious reposts, but sometimes it’s too hard to tell. As a result, valuable media gets passed over, or it is used and later disproven.

Way back in 2012, Neiman dedicated an entire issue to the subject. Journalists from many respected institutions weighed in on their preferred methods of verification. The BBC (among other organizations) suggested that “the golden rule…is to get on the phone whoever has posted the material.”

This is a great idea in concept. But in practice is full of problems as even the authors go on to state (emphasis mine): “Unless sources are activists living in a dictatorship who must remain anonymous to protect their lives, people who are genuine witnesses to events are usually eager to talk.” So what are people to do when they are living under an oppressive regime (like Syria), with unreliable cellphone access?

Unfortunately this hardship usually translates to a dearth of publishable content, and, sadly, a dearth of media attention. News organizations fear a backlash if a public-made video or image they publish is later proven to be forged or repurposed. And the more dangerous or unstable an area is, the fewer Western journalists are going to be there. All this leaves areas most in need of attention ignored and left to fend for themselves.

A potential solution was developed in 2008, but in a corner of the Internet no one might expect. Bitcoin, the largely misunderstood cryptocurrency, has a fascinating, and impactful infrastructure, with implications for almost every industry. This supporting technology is the Blockchain.

Go ahead and watch the video, I’ll wait. And the rest of this post will make no sense without an understanding of Blockchain.

Tl;dr: (Too long; didn’t read for those wondering) Blockchain allows for decentralized record-keeping by all users on the blockchain. What’s even better, users do not need to be identified for the system to be effective and ironclad. This is how users on the Silk Road were able to buy and sell illicit goods without anyone knowing who anyone else was.

So now we have a method of community verification that need not be tied to a person’s identity. Next, we combine this method of verification with a way of establishing each user’s presence in the community, through a mesh network. Mesh networks allows Internet-enabled devices within a geographical area to share internet access without passing through a central hub (like traditional networks). Imagine logging on to a social networking app (like FireChat, used for communication during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong) to communicate with fellow activists or resistance members. Upon logging on, you are verified as being physically present in a location, and your account is provided a certificate of authenticity (of sorts).

As you upload photos or videos to the app, this certificate follows those images and videos thanks to the Blockchain. (A company called Monegraph is doing something similar with copyright and art.) When you leave the mesh network, your certificate is revoked. If, later you tried to change metadata about images or videos, or add other content outside the network, the Blockchain ledgers wouldn’t match, and the changes would be rejected.

Decentralized/Community record-keeping is a game-changer for many areas of life. And it is only a matter of time before we see it shift the balance of power and attention. But where that power and attention shifts to, is largely dependent on the systems we build.


Posted in All

In Egypt, How Free Is Free?

Egypt is experiencing a suite of problems at the moment. Economic hardship, political discourse and constant violence rattle the day-to-day lives of its citizens, even though the revolution supposedly ended two years ago. Freedom of speech and of the press has been one of these hot-button issues, with activists and journalists brought in for questioning on the grounds of defamation. On March 31st, popular comedian Bassem Youssef joined the ranks of the summoned for commentary on his TV show “El Bernameg” (“The Show”) similar in format to the United States’ “The Daily Show.” Youssef had taken on the government, and it started to feel uneasy about his jabs.

The next day, John Stewart, who interviewed Youssef several times, dedicated 11 minutes of his program unpacking the meaning of this media personality’s arrest with his charismatic sarcasm:


He ended the segment with a clip of President Morsi asserting his commitment to freedom of speech and the press, along with a direct plea for Morsi to reconsider the actions taken again Youssef (and democracy in general. “…the world is watching. No one wants to see Egypt plunge into darkness. A democracy isn’t a democracy if it only lasts until someone makes fun of your hat.”

After the show, the US Embassy in Cairo tweeted the segment to its followers much to the chagrin of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling party. But activists commended the Embassy for their bold stance.

Unfortunately, some things were not to be.

The MB quickly countered, condemning the move.

Promptly, not only the offending tweet, but the entire @USEmbassyCairo account was taken down. Allegedly this was done without White House approval and soon after, the account was re-instated–minus the original tweet.


The next day, the MB continued a barrage of attacks on US policy and relations with the US, both on Twitter and their website.

“The FJP strongly and totally condemns these statements as made by the US State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, because they will have only one interpretation in the Egyptian street: the US welcomes and defends contempt of religion by the media. At the same time, the FJP reiterates and reaffirms its deep respect for freedom of opinion and freedom to criticize executive leaders, including the head of state, within the bounds of the law and the Constitution, with respect for religious and cultural constants of this free revolutionary and independent people.” – excerpt from statement on the MB website


Morsi also released a statement (in English) regarding the incident. The President claimed that the accusations brought against Youssef were from a private citizen, and not the government.

“Egyptian Presidency Press Release on the Questioning of the Comedian The Presidency reaffirms that Egypt after the revolution has become a state of law with independent Judiciary. Hence, the Prosecution’s summoning of any Egyptian citizen regardless of his title or fame is the decision of the Prosecutor General, who operates independently from the presidency. The current legal system allows for individual complaints to be brought to the Prosecutor General. All the current well-publicized claims were initiated by citizens rather than the Presidency. The Presidency has not filed any complaint against stand-up comedian Basem Yousef. The Presidency reiterates the importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom. All citizens are free to express themselves without the restrictions that prevailed in the era of the previous regime. The first legislation passed under President Mohamed Morsy was concerned with the prevention of pre-trial detention of journalists. This demonstrates the determination of the President to encourage press and media to operate in a free environment. We urge citizens to exercise their legal right to freedom of speech while respecting the rule of law.” People questioned it’s motive, considering it was written for a western audience.

The Twitter-verse was aflame with support for Youssef and his message.


However, one blogger for the Huffington Post spoke out against Youssef:

“Egypt stands at a critical juncture, and Bassem Youssef is taking advantage rather than playing a helping role. It only takes one deranged person to ruin the reputation of an entire nation. Bassem Youssef has entertained so many people and in the process has mocked all things that make Egypt the place loved by so many people. Bassem Youssef is milking his five minutes of fame, and his friends are talking about him as if he is some modern-day Martin Luther King Jr. MLK did not have a million-dollar contract. MLK did not insult people for money. MLK did not try to embarrass his foes. Let’s stop pretending Youssef is fighting the good fight. He is just fighting for a paycheck.” 

The post became its own center for debate, even being challenged by a fellow HuffPo blogger.


And the Muslim Brotherhood part was quick to defend Morsi’s motives:

Oddly enough, Youssef himself encouraged a redirection of this energy, claiming that others were more deserving and in more need of the attention.

The conversation was so popular, #BassemYoussef, #Cairo and #Egypt all became trending topics on Twitter. Later in the week, after Youssef’s showed aired, #BassemYoussef would again rise to the same level of attention.

But as is the achilles heel of social media, a vocal minority was acting as spokesperson for a nation when in fact, there was more to tell. One Eqyptian blogger set out to find the whole story. By combing the streets, she was able to determine a more even-handed and in-depth account of the debate. Here are some quotes from the “everyman” Egyptians she talked with:

‘ “Opinions should be expressed in a way acceptable to God. I shouldn’t knock people or use bad language.”

“I used to watch Bassem Youssef during the revolution and I used to love him. But I don’t like the opposition’s style now. I’m not with Morsi but I don’t like the opposition.”

“He is constantly attacking Islamists. Before he used to attack everyone but now he is constantly attacking Islamists”.

Note that all of these people watch B.Youssef’s show regularly and enjoy it, even one man who agreed that the satirist should be taken to task for crossing the line. ‘

On Friday night, Youssef’s show aired as scheduled, and the media personality was unphased by his recent arrest. In the show, he took on Qatar with a parody that would go viral later that night.


In general, activists were elated to see the comedian continue to “fight the good fight” against the oppression they felt against the regime.

The next day, Youssef was officially acquitted of charges and the investigation was dropped.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though.

“The small but inordinately wealthy emirate of Qatar issued a statement on Monday, condemning Youssef’s mockery of their “generours aid” and warning the economically dire Egyptian state that relations would cool over the coming months. “He added that satire was permissible when used to discuss relevant political issues, saying that he in fact agreed with much of what Bassem Youssef presents on his programme, adding, however, that restraint should be exercised when discussing issues of economic importance, as this was in the best interests of the country. ”

And this sentiment wasn’t limited to the government or the Business Council. Several citizens of the island also spoke out on Twitter, offended by the comedian’s commentary.


For a land as impoverished and desperate as Egypt, the push and pull of old-world and new-world values could prove fatal to many of its citizens in this ongoing struggle for democracy.

Paul Ryan is Such a Ham

When the House of Representatives released their budget proposal yesterday, there was an almost instantaneous uproar from the news media. Left and right leaning organizations alike chastised the GOP for repackaging a budget that had, for all intents and purposes, been rejected both in congress (twice) and during the last presidential election. An Atlantic Monthly business headline read “Paul Ryan’s Budget Simplified: Save the Rich, Spare the Old, Forget the Poor.” I thought to myself, that’s a bold claim to make, but indeed the media all seemed to have the same general consensus. But, there has to be a method to the somewhat hyperbolized madness surrounding this budget. As often as we damn the congress as being incompetent and bull-headed, they are presumably erudite people with some sort of rationale behind their decisions. So it stands to reason that the GOP continues to submit the same budget three years running because there is some validity in its pages. In order to form a true understanding, I’d have to get answers from the horse’s mouth.

It seemed the best place to begin this search would be the primary source, the budget itself. While it’s nice to read synopses about needlessly verbose documents, I knew that only more opinions would come second hand. The House Republicans had taken the time to construct a user-centric website around their budget. It was a nice gesture, if poorly implemented. This isn’t a design critique, so I’ll spare the details of the failed UX, but suffice to say I finally chose to download the pdf rather than read the embedded document.

More interesting than the budge itself was the promotional video embedded as part of the overall marketing package. After gathering the facts I needed from the document itself, I moved on to see what the horse himself had to say in three minutes and twenty-nine seconds. There were many cut scenes of families, small children and seniors with somber instrumental music quietly playing in the background. Ryan had obviously held several strategy sessions about how best to tug at the heartstrings of his constituency. There were several scenes of people using Apple products to watch segments of his video. Product placement?

Aside from the environmental factors, there were many claims made by the Congressman that raised my eyebrows. His slogan centers around two paths for the future of America. “…The America we know or…debt, doubt and decline” What “the America we know” refers to was never made clear, but it seemed to insinuate a shift to free-market capitalism and drastically smaller government. However, according to the US treasury (admittedly a partisan organization) federal employment is at a historic low in relation to overall workforce. Additionally, it is unclear what time frame “the America we know” supposedly represents. As evidenced by the housing bubble, much of the prosperity we enjoyed in the past was falsely inflated. Is that the America we know?

Ryan goes on to attack the “Democratic Senate” for not proposing a budget and continuing to “spend, but there’s zero accountability.” These claims are true, but they do little to argue the validity of his budget plan, or how the plan will benefit the American people. He claims that “the president’s budget calls for more spending and more debt.” This also proved to be true, and upon further investigation, the president’s budget did seem short-sighted. The CBO projected that under the president’s plan, revenue and economic growth would rise through 2017 but then slow and begin to decline through 2022.

The scene cuts to a group of carpenters working on a project, while Ryan narrates in the background: “Despite $2 trillion dollars in tax increases on hardworking Americans…” The scene and narration paint an ambivalent picture, however. The debt hikes from January mainly target earners over $200,000 for singles, $400,000 for married couples. The average carpenter makes about $46,000 a year. While not naming “middle-income” or “working class” in the scene, Ryan misleads the viewer by portraying disparate imagery.

“Debt skyrockets under his plan, and will put us on par with countries like Greece” he says, while a colorful chart animates and disappears, with a pinpoint for Greece. When pausing the video on the chart however, the intersection of US debt with Greece is in 2050. This assertion is speculative at best. The CBO states in their 2013 budgetary analysis, “Additional business-cycle fluctuations will happen in the future, but it is impossible to know when they will occur and whether they will be large or small.” Again, while the initial claim “Debt skyrockets under his plan” is true (and worrisome) Ryan skews the numbers to enforce his message.

The most egregious claims come when he begins to discuss the healthcare reform plan. It seems as though he throws every marketing tactic at this issue to appeal to seniors (the GOP’s main demographic). He strikes at the fear seniors have of being without adequate healthcare when he claims that “under the presidential health law, Medicare will go bankrupt.” Unfortunately, this is a stretch of the truth at best. In reality, a part of Medicare (Part A, covering hospital visits) will become insolvent (unable to cover 100% of it’s costs) by 2016, but will still be able to pay most costs. Furthermore, in a report by the Congressional Research Service in 1970 projected Part A’s bankruptcy by 1972. 40 years later, the same claims are being made.

He also warns that the Affordable Care Act will “[take] the power away from current seniors, and give that power to a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats. AARP, an unaffiliated non-profit for seniors, says, ” Health care under the ACA will not be government run. “The law builds on and strengthens the existing private insurance system,” says Collins. “Fifty to 60 percent of people will continue to get insurance through an employer, and people who are buying their own insurance will still buy private health plans. The choice of plan is not dictated, and you’ll be able to choose the provider you want — no government bureaucrat involved.” Ryan claims that his plan would “put patients in control of their health care decisions” which is true. Under the Ryan budget, health care would move to a voucher system and seniors would have a fixed amount to spend on healthcare. The ulterior motive of this voucher system is being hotly debated, though.

In Ryan’s budget plan, he assumes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. With a Democratic Senate, this is all but impossible. However, he claims to propose tax reform that’s common sense. Of all the claims made in the video, though, his remarks on tax reform are probably the closest to candid honesty. He does lower the tax rate for everyone, and closes “loop holes” though many speculators believe that will also include deductions for mortgage payments and others deductions for the middle class.

The power of video is undeniable. Whenever an audience has a multi-sensory experience, marketers have the ability to appeal to the users on both blatant and latent levels. Several times throughout the video, Ryan’s vague words can be combined with compelling imagery to send a specific message without committing outright libel. The overuse of fear mongering, name-calling and ambivalent imagery unfortunately discredit his useful claims, like the spending problems with Obama’s plan. In the GOP’s effort to steer people to their line of thinking, they’ve actually succeeded in calling attention to their own sensationalism. I found the answers I wanted after reading between the lines, but–as is usual with American politics–I wish I could have been spared the band-standing.