The half-day’s drive through forested hills and arid orchards went smoothly, despite the now standard hold up at the border as the customs officials inspect the Freedom Toaster. (Us: “It’s a transparent computer. Or, better to call it a portable CD burner.” Customs Official: “…”.)
We rolled into San Salvador to the generous hospitality of the city’s Centro Cultural de España for an evening of mingling and open pupusas. Pupusas are a delicious dish of corn tortilla with baked cheese inside topped with cabbage and salsa. You can apparently stuff them with all sorts of yummy things, like grilled veggies and guacamole.
The Open Pupusas was a great reminder of how food is a perfect interactive medium. People bustling around with plates and managing messy meals really dissolves social inhibitions and a few bites in you find yourself bonding with a neighbor about how tasty everything is and by the way what do they do, what brought them here, etc etc.
During the evening we met a cluster of Salvadorian digital natives, i.e. very wired kids that tweeted about heading to the event in cool Spanish net slang where “que” becomes “k” and everything is in a miXturRe of CapitAl leTTers. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them and think, wow, they must’ve been 8 or so when CC was founded. The movement is practically in a stage where a generation takes it for given and not recall a time when it wasn’t around.
Speaking of the next generation, a Debian developer sat rocking an adorable newborn and explained that her name is Debbie Alejandra. Now that’s a real geek.
The next morning we returned to the center and held some brief presentations about Free Software, freedom of expression, tech tools for transparency, and the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge.
We broke into smaller groups to discuss the specific topics, and although I couldn’t follow the details in Spanish, the energy was high and the vibe great. In general, the crowd seemed knowledgeable about the basic principles and projects of Free Software and Free Culture, which helped drive the conversation further.
Clearing out of the cultural center, I headed with Renata to a local community radio station, where she went on the air to explain the Librebus. The national newspaper El Salvador dedicated an article to us as well.
An evening of geeks and news innovation awaited at a nearby bar (regrettably located in a mall made possible by the obliteration of a precious forest, we later learned). We met to brainstorm around the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge (#MoJo), grabbing a pen and napkin and tackling the question: how can video online change news storytelling?
Every successful submission scored the participant a mojoitos (our attempt at being punny), and the mood was fun and collaborative. Despite the intro talk (slides kindly translated into Spanish by Renata), it was difficult at first to explain what the scope of the idea should be, especially since the crowd was more of the geek, rather than journo, DNA. I suspect it helps to be more familiar with the domain in question (the news) when tossing out tangible problems to solve and suggestions to improve. In any case, they got warmed up after I whipped up a super simplified demo sketch.
Renata proposed a truly brilliant win-win-win idea for the challenge. It focuses primarily on photos, but you could pull off the same thing for video. Here’s the gist:
News photographers on assignment take hundreds if not thousands of pictures. But when their work is published, only a very select amount is used. Let’s conservatively say 1 in 100 photos. There’s a lot of waste in the system. What if there were a “megastore” for all the unused photos? What if all the digital scraps, the unpublished masses, were uploaded in a way that freed up storage space — fast and easily — from photographers’ cameras and offered them incentives, such as equipment discounts and promos, to get the pics online. A condition of submission could be waiving the rights and getting the photos in the public domain for maximum reuse. Crowdsourced tagging could be explored, for example, with image captchas to unlock phones or play games. Sponsors and high-scoring photographers would be featured prominently. And the public would have access to professional quality images and footage from all over the world.
I think it’s a fantastic and very webby way of approaching news photography’s current inefficiencies. Renata will be writing it up more thoroughly soon. Can’t wait to see what comes out of the MoJo meetup tomorrow in Guatemala City!
(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila, CC BY)