How we tried to build a video tree

Instead of going out there to source YouTube videos and Twitter posts, we decided to create a new tool to source content that helps people better understand others in all parts of the world.

Before online news and social media (yes, there was a ‘before’—weird right?) people stayed updated by reading print copies of local or national newspapers. The newspapers had editors who curated material and aimed to show a diversity of content. Readers would stumble upon whatever news stories were included.

Now, readers are able to seek out news. News websites personalize news for the particular readers. Many readers say they ‘get their news’ through social media sites. Personalization and social media lead to often-discussed ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles’, e.g. exposing people to repeated articles carrying political views that align with their own.

Attempts have been made to make people care about global news. News editors often want to include more global news, but need to meet the demands of the readers. They are confronted to very tangible barriers, as simple as the language barrier. Global Voices is a site for citizen media reporting from 167 countries, co-founded by Ethan Zuckerman that aims at overcoming the language obstacle by providing translations.

There’s another problem. We argue that we should pay attention to what is happening elsewhere in the world, and particularly in countries that are socioeconomically and culturally different from our own. We also think that it is only by reaching out to people who are different and by trying to understand conflicting points of view that we will be able to foster a news ecosystem within which people can mutually understand one another. Initiatives to increase communication between people holding different political opinions have recently taken place, for example in the state of Washington. A group from a highly Democrat county simply drove down to the most Republican county of the State to have a face to face conversation with the people who voted exactly opposite of what they did. (

We believe that these face to face interactions are important to create empathy and a deeper understanding of issues. However, face to face interactions are not always possible, for geographical reasons for example. Or simply because sometimes our circles of friends are people who share similar views and daily experiences. How might we encourage people to reach out to others in a way that encourages asking questions and listening? How might we engage all parties, so that rather than passively reading news about an event at a distant location, people are reaching out to those locations and asking questions?

We propose a new kind of community—one where community members answer any question that someone else has asked previously, and then contribute by asking a new question. Responses are submitted as videos, because, as we just stated, videos are human and induce empathy. Over time, the sequence of videos constitutes a tree, spanning responses from all around the world. This is the tree of global connection.

What might a tree of global connection look like? Well, we went ahead and created a prototype.

Landing page

Submitting a video 


Okay, so taking aside some of the fluff:  We have a thing that lets people submit YouTube links and then displays them on a website.

We had fun making the website (aside: we had quite a laugh when writing “gray” with a green font), but the website now does not communicate the vision that we have articulated in this blog post. These are some steps to improve the website to better meet its purpose:

  1. Certainly:  
    1. Instead of listing the videos one by one in a row, display the videos in a tree graph to show how questions and answers are connected.
    2. Determine a name, slogan, and symbol.
    3. Tag each video, enable browsing by tag, each tag having its own tree graph
    4. Miscellaneous:  Additional effort for users to upload video to YouTube; There’s no verification that users submit YouTube videos that they have personally uploaded; We’re currently using an MIT video for the banner; We’re using a heroku domain
  2. Maybe:  Implement geolocation and a map view, and show the trail of the question-answer “ball” being passed around touching different areas of the world.

Further, while we tried to post a link to the website on Reddit and, we need to gauge interest from a wider audience and engage with people who might potentially use this tool.

In the end, to more properly reconnect our project to the assignment, we think this tool could be used for people to ask questions about world events they cannot witness in person, and that they have trouble understanding. Through these short videos, users could create question chains on all issues going around the world and create a deeper understanding of news events that can tend to be stripped from personality.

The tree layout would enable users to have an overall view on each issue, and to quickly find answers to the questions they are asking themselves and respond to what they feel they can add knowledge to.


— Katrine and Marie.

Feminist activists take on the Kremlin

by Drew and Arthur

On March 8, International Women’s Day, a group of Russian feminist activists protested outside the Kremlin.

You reached the view limit for this month.
Please get the advanced iframe pro version.
Go to the administration for details.

Their banner said, “200 years men in power, out with them!”
Ekaterina Nenasheva’s post accompanying the video reads:

“Moscow and St. Petersburg feminists, #CapturedKremlin, congratulate you on March 8
UPD: Tishchenko, Orlova and a photographer from Nova already in the Police Station – China Town
UPD: at 14:20 – released all detainees”

Meanwhile, Putin was congratulating the staff at the new perinatal centre in Bryansk. After all, the history of International Women’s day is rooted in Russia.

The feminists gathered in a prominent location, Alexander Garden, right at the edge of the Kremlin’s walls:

You reached the view limit for this month.
Please get the advanced iframe pro version.
Go to the administration for details.

News of the demonstration spread quickly on social media, with over 43k people watching Nenasheva’s video.

Some declared the protesters heroines.

One person wrote on Facebook in Russian: “You are still bathing in a bath with champagne, and your revolutionary friends have already taken the Kremlin.”

Not all coverage of the demonstration was positive, though.

A photo of protesters appearing to have breached the Kremlin walls turned out to be Photoshopped.

The fake photo was quickly denounced, even by the organizers, in a Facebook post that has since been deleted (but was reported on by Buzzfeed).

In that deleted post, Ekaterina Nenasheva says:

“I’m hurting right now for Russian art activism and the feminist collective, because the picture of the Arsenal tower really did turn out to be photoshop. Only a few participants knew about it, and now I know too.
I deeply respect all participants of the protest and don’t want to devalue their actions. All the other photos and videos are real. Thank you, girls!
But I also consider it absolutely unprofessional and unacceptable to have such an approach to work, in any case, the use of photoshop was not part of the original concept.”

Others used it as an opportunity to discuss the much talked about “fake news”.

Fake news. Actual fake news. 😂

Joseph Griffiths 发布于 2017年3月8日

Taking a pause from his day job to look at the future of data journalism

Photo courtesy of the Nieman Foundation 

After spending much of the past decade reporting on politics and science in his home state of North Carolina, Tyler Dukes became concerned about a glaring gap in the skill sets being taught to the next generation of reporters in journalism schools. As an investigative reporter on the state politics team for the local television station WRAL in Raleigh, Dukes has focused on using data and public records to uncover and tell stories of the problems plaguing mental health care in state prisons and the implementation of protection orders for victims of domestic violence. Yet in his experience teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school and as a researcher at Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab, he saw that data journalism was being addressed in only the most superficial ways, if at all.

“Very few courses are offered,” Dukes said in an interview, speaking of journalism schools across the country, “and when they are, they are far outstripped by courses like how to make pretty graphs and how to do data visualization.  It is not data analysis first. It is not using data as  a source first.  It is not acquiring data through public records and things like that. So it skips this really important step, which is data literacy.”

Hoping to address this problem, Dukes and his wife moved to Cambridge in the fall where Dukes would spend an academic year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University studying best practices for college journalism programs and newsrooms looking to democratize data-driven reporting for underserved communities. Now more than half way through his fellowship, Dukes acknowledges he is far from discovering a solution to those challenges. Much of the fall semester was spent taking advantage of Harvard’s offerings to address gaps in his own knowledge in areas like statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  These classes, he said, helped to both demystify certain concepts but also offer pedagogical lessons on how to teach things like statistics from a practical, applied perspective to policy makers or journalists who may have limited math backgrounds.

In his remaining months in Cambridge, Dukes plans to continue conversations he began in the fall with students and reporters about how best to move ahead with his idea of creating an extracurricular independent study resource about the various facets of data journalism. He says he envisions some kind of platform, perhaps recorded Google hangouts or Skype calls with experts, that students who do not feel served by their journalism schools could easily access.  While many similar online modules and resources for journalists exist in an ad hoc fashion, he says that dedicated organization have had difficulties incorporating these models into universities and colleges.

“If we are pretending we are equipping them to be journalists in modern times they have to have basic data literacy,” Dukes said. “And if journalism school aren’t going to do it, someone is going to have to force their hand.”

In the meantime, Dukes and his fellow Niemans are also using their time in Cambridge to reflect on the deeper questions about their role in the journalism ecosystem that have emerged in the politically volatile past few months. He admits he is starting to feel the pull to return back to his newsroom which, despite widespread consternation about the future of local news, is still relatively robust.  While the overall economic climate for journalism is shaky and shifting quickly, Dukes thinks people are too quick to generalize about an industry that is hardly monolithic and varies widely based on platform and location. Though increased coverage and competition from other outlets would be welcome, Dukes has the luxury of returning to a healthy newsroom in a fairly well covered media market that is continuing to aggressively report on post-election dynamics in his absence.

Though he concedes a twinge of regret at not being in the thick of things, he says that “the impact of elections are felt for years…the story is not going away.” And at a moment in which the role of the press in covering politics is being hotly debated, there is a certain “perspective that comes from being forced not to do your job for several months. Hopefully it is going to make our work that much better when we get back.”

The Next Step: An Exponential Life

This evening, MIT Technology Review hosted a dialogue on the unprecedented technological revolution that we are currently witnessing, debating both the risks and opportunities that lay before us. Making up the panel were:

  • Francisco González, BBVA Group Executive Chairman
  • Dr. Steven M. Lipkin, Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University
  • Dr. Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
  • Professor Joseph A. Paradiso, MIT Media Lab
  • Professor Jonathan Rossiter, University of Bristol
  • Jason Pontin, editor and chief and publisher of the MITTR


The guests described how we have found ourselves at the beginning of the 4th Industrial Revolution rooted in both information and economics. They were interested in separating what can be considered pure science fiction from actual risk, with an emphasis on emerging technologies, which have ultimately put humanity at risk. We are changing our climate at a rate that we have not yet seen. We are wiping out species at an unprecedented rate.There have been two dozen near misses involving nuclear technologies.



The nature of technology as a double edged sword was emphasized. It has raised the quality of life, health and education, and a new capacity for happiness globally. The same technology poses an existential risk, however, to humanity.

For example, the biotech intelligence that creates the capacity for bioweapons, will also be the solution to wiping out the next global pandemic. The challenge will be in ensuring that these technologies benefit as many people as possible.hÉigeartaigh and Lipkin cautioned how inequalities will also exacerbate the risks. Whether assessing access to healthcare or affordability of space flight, the economics profoundly change the impact of the historical perspective.



Rosetter asserted that Brexit and Trump’s win are a reflection of a revolt against modernity and a rejection of expertise.

With an entirely white male panel, there was a glaring lack of diversity, particularly given the nature of its content. A conversation on the future narrows drastically with a limited engagement amongst its participants.

Sara’s 4 hour assignment: Modernism at the MFA

In the spirit of doing the assignment in a medium outside my wheelhouse, I attempted to create a multimedia storytelling account of a lecture I attended at the MFA. The end result is ok though since I was confined to the free version of the platform Atavist I had to make due without most of the bells and whistles and stick to relatively basic functions. I wonder if ultimately the final product is anything more than a glorified powerpoint, which leads me to question whether traditional journalistic reportage is sometimes still the best option. The time constraint was also an issue as I sought to master this new platform. A major error is that I had hoped to upload audio of a bilingual portion of the event but I had recorded in m4a and  atavist only accepted mp3 format and I didn’t have time to do a conversion. Thus for the time-being the audio is a placeholder of birds chirping…

You can see my story here

EntertainStats Podcast

A one-time podcast about how popular Oscars are with MIT students. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud.

This podcast was created by Dijana, Maddie, Mika & Sruthi. It took just under 4 hours to discuss the idea, interview students, record and publish the podcast. (Monday 11:30 am – 3:15 pm)

Some behind the scenes pictures for entertainment purposes:

Discussing the idea ->

Interviewing students ->

Editing those audio recordings ->

Writing the podcast script ->

..And the reporters rehearse for podcast recording in our makeshift audio room (in between doors at the student center entrance) ->