LibreBus: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City Volcanoes01 bySir James / Public Domain, found in Wikimedia Commons


We broke our fast in San Salvador with tortillas, pancakes, and “American” coffee. A great tragedy in Central America is how delicious local foods, like coffee and tortillas stuffed with yumminess, are sold back to the region in the form of Starbuckes and Taco Bells. I know, I know. It’s globalization here as it is everywhere, but it’s still sad to see people waiting for hours in line for a latte from beans grown in their country but costing 3x as much.

Librebus in several Guatemalan newspapers

The Librebus hit the road for Guatemala City, just a few hours down the road. The temperature as we headed north became progressively cooler, a welcome relief from the heat of Nicaragua and Honduras. We reached Guatemala by mid-day, and after checking into the hotel, met up with about 10 Libre community folks: the CC Guatemala team, Free Software developers, a security contributor to Tactical Tech, and education and transparency advisers to various ministries.

We landed in a number of national and local newspapers. In general, media coverage of the Librebus was quite high. The journalists explained that in a region plagued with news about drug wars, violence, and corruption, a positive story about education, inter-regional collaboration, and idealism is fresh and welcome.

CC Salon

The CC Salon at the Centro Cultural de EspaƱa in Guatemala City was our most well attended event yet. David, part of the budding CC team in Panama, commented that Guatemala has a level of activity and community that is a shining Free Culture star to the region. It’s true, and it’s not to be underestimated that it comes with the dedicated work of key people over several years (CC Guatemala signed its first MOU in 2006), growing the team and community one relationship at a time. One of the strengths in the country is the diversity of people who care about Free Culture and Free Software. And they’ve come to care about not through promotional talks, but through conversations about how these tools can help solve problems they encounter every day.

Speaking at the salon was the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, the host institution of CC Guatemala. Their new media department is pioneering a video platform for courses. The service houses more than 17,000 1,700 videos from lectures and classroom activities, synced with a transcript and slides timed to the talk. You can select sections of the video and share links to exact that snippet. It’s pretty impressive. The platform uses various CC licenses for the lectures, and we spoke to them about releasing the platform’s code. I also demoed popcorn and hyperaudio, which got them excited about web standards and HTML5.

A film about DVD gray markets in Guatemala was screened by pirata tv, and the maestros de web, a freely licensed software & web documentation site, showed his platform. The latter reminded me of a huge advantage Latin America has when it comes to educational materials. Often, people I met outside the English-speaking world lament that it’s difficult, in their language, to reach a critical mass and have access to enough quality content in the subject of their choice. But Spanish is a language spoken by at least 500 million people. It’s an enormous advantage. There are lots of initiatives and repositories and study groups and hordes of content available in their language. And although understandably one can feel isolated if they’re the only ones in their country working in the field or producing content. But transcend geography (one of the internet’s perks, of course), and you’ve got collaborators and resources everywhere. This is a great insight for Central America, I think, not just language-and-critical-mass-of-content-wise, but in leveraging their mutual efforts more often and not reinventing the wheel in each admittedly small, not-so-densely populated country.
Knight-Mozilla MoJoitos Guatemala CIty

Having perfected the Knight-Mozilla MoJoito format in San Salvador, after the CC Salon we headed to a popular journo part in Guatemala City for round of brainstorming. It was a stellar attendance and a great vibe. We set up a prominent table in the bar, taped up some example napkin sketches, and started handing out pens & paper. Over the course of the evening, 25 ideas rolled in and 25 MoJoitos rolled out.

The ideas covered all sorts of ground and all sorts of approaches. Some highlights were: using SMS for citizens to text in news and send photos/video from a scene, interactive public screens showing the news and soliciting input from passers-by, live comment walls during news interviews that both the anchor and interviewee respond to and interact with, and a neat suggestion to double the news prompter, already employed to transcribe the action, as a video transcript generator and microblogger.

First Hackathon for Public Data in Guatemala

The next morning a room of geeks and activists gathered at the cultural center for the country’s first public data hackathon. The goal of the event was to connect NGOs and technologists and to start driving demand for open data by piloting some use cases.

I gave a brief overview of Linked Data and how the open data movement is shaping up in Europe and spots elsewhere. Where Does My Money Go and They Work For You for fiscal and political transparency really resonated with everyone, as Guatemala is entering an election year with a very corrupt government.

Also, as David Foster Wallace has helped drive home in The Pale King, pattern recognition and storytelling must shine from these monumental data statues if the information is going to have any relevance. This takes time, and patience, and to some degree a tolerance for eye-glazing public documents, but the world is in a position to make these documents more eye-catching and comprehensible, not to mention immediate and compelling. So techies teaming up with journos, handling the human translation work together, is a powerful formula.

And while the audience appreciated the examples from from around the world, they also expressed the need to have visualization tools at their finger tips, so that whatever data crumbs are obtained can be instantly digestible. It’s of course the Holy Grail, but there are curations of key programs and tools already. Maybe we need a Tactical Tech-esque Data Journalism in a Box?

In any case, the crowd was primed for rolling up their sleeves and prototyping some action for public data. One group developed an infographic for the election process of Guatemala’s District Attorney, gleaned from an Excel spreadsheet on Another group created a podcast of recommendations for the transparency site, which you can catch the audio on SoundCloud. There were demos from Congreso and Open Wolf, and presentations from local NGOs and user groups.

Possibly the best outcome was hearing a few people say, “This is the beginning of something new in Guatemala. We have a lot of work to do, but now we know we can do it together.”

(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila / CC BY and Jorge)

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  1. Pingback: Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Jams Hit 15 Cities « = thornet =

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