Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

May 1, 2008

Public Broadcasting and Twitter? Engagement and Authenticity!

Filed under: Cool Tools,Public Media,Social Media — Andy Carvin @ 2:40 pm

Yesterday, I saw a note from the WBUR Twitter account pointing to a blog post about their recent experiments with Twitter. For those of you who don’t know WBUR, it’s an NPR member station in Boston that’s been doing a lot of tinkering in the social media space as of late, so I follow their work pretty closely.
In his blog post, WBUR’s Ken George talks about some of their social media projects, and how they’re now heading into unknown waters with Twitter:

Now our media giant lumbers head first into the world of Twitter.
After dusting off the mostly dormant WBUR Twitter account, and fortified with copious amounts of coffee, I managed to accrue a modest following (hey its quality, not quantity right?). But in all honesty, I remain uncertain – to the point of apprehension – about what I should “Tweet” about. Do you want WBUR news updates? Irreverent musings? Programming information? Personal trivia? Shout-outs to my peeps? A running chronology of my day?
An excellent example of Twitter’s utility is public radio station KPBS using it to receive updates on wildfires then consuming swaths of southern California, information they then could relay over the airwaves. My own personal “ah-ha!” moment came yesterday afternoon when someone Tweeted me about a misspelling on the site. It just then dawned on me that WBUR too now has a potential army of researchers and fact-checkers at its disposal. The cranial cavity expanded six inches yesterday… cue “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”
So maybe the right question is: In what ways can we help each other?

Lemme spin that question another way, if I may: What would I expect of WBUR – and any other public broadcaster, for that matter – as far as Twitter is concerned?

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January 15, 2008

Widget Fest: CPB Grant to Foster Public Broadcasting Collaboration & User Engagement for Election 2008

Filed under: Cool Tools,Media & Politics,Social Media — Andy Carvin @ 6:19 pm

Earlier today, NPR and its partners announced that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is awarding more than $1.3 million dollars to a consortium of public media organizations to expand our coverage of election 2008 across multiple platforms. The consortium, led by NPR and including American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio, Capitol News Connection, KQED, PBS, PRX, PRI/Public Interactive and The NewsHour, will work together to produce election-related content and interactive tools available to the entire public broadcasting system.
“By pooling content produced locally and nationally — for radio, television, and online — we will discover new ways of doing business to better serve the public,” said NPR CEO Ken Stern in a note that went out today to the public radio system. “We are pleased to have succeeded in coming together to deliver on the commitments made at the 2007 Annual Meeting.”
“This grant underscores CPB’s support of innovative projects that move public radio and television into the digital future so they can help individuals better connect with their communities wherever they are,” added Pat Harrison, CPB President and CEO. “This ambitious project will provide us with new ways of looking at how we serve the public on existing and emerging media platforms.”
The basic premise of the project was built around a simple reality – many public broadcasters were planning to create on air content and interactive modules for their websites, but we didn’t have a structure in place to work together during the election cycle. Around a year ago, NPR and PBS began conversations around editorial partnerships for the election, including the creation of an interactive map that would work on both of our websites, as well as on the TV show NewsHour. While that conversation was taking place, I co-organized a group discussion at the February 2007 Integrated Media Association conference for public broadcasters to talk about the Election 2008 social media plans and how those activities might be replicable across the system.
The conversation kicked into high gear at NPR’s annual meeting last April, where you may recall I blogged about some of the ideas that were brewing among those of us present at the event. We organized breakout conversation in which we laid out what was at stake and how we might collaborate. It didn’t take long to realize that we had an opportunity that might quickly slip through our fingers if we couldn’t get our act together. We needed to pull together a SWAT team and get to work.
At the encouragement of CPB, we organized a May meeting at NPR laying out all the possible ways we might collaborate, and get that SWAT team going to pull together a plan. By the end of July, we submitted our plan to CPB, which today has been christened with this $1.36 million grant.
So what exactly are we doing? For one thing, we’re going to take all of the cool online election activities we’ve got planned for 2008 and we’re going to make them available as widgets, including:


  • An interactive election map from NPR and The NewsHour;
  • Localizable news modules from Public Radio International’s Public Interactive;
  • A curated collection of election audio and social media content from PRX;
  • Election-related video from PBS;
  • An archive of broadcast materials covering New York-based presidential candidates from WNYC;
  • A collaborative content initiative entitled “Global Perspectives on Election 2008″ from PRI;
  • User-generated political commentaries curated by NPR;
  • Capitol News Connection’s interactive ‘Ask Your Lawmaker’ widget, enabling citizens to directly question their lawmakers and listen to answers obtained by CNC journalists;
  • Election simulations and thought-provoking interactive activities from American Public Media and KQED.

Some of these tools, like the NPR/NewsHour map and CNC’s Ask Your Lawmaker widget, are all ready up and running. Others, such as NPR’s user-generated political commentaries project, will be launching in the coming months. (You have no idea how excited I’m am about this one. We’re working like gangbusters to get this puppy launched – more soon.) In each case, the projects will exist wherever they originally resided, but they’ll have widgets, too, so stations can take these tools and localize them for their own uses. Some of the projects, like our user-generated commentaries, will be embeddable on blogs or wherever else you’d want to place them.
Meanwhile, underlying all of these projects will be an experimental social network – a “knowledge network” for public media entities to share election resources and data, find tutorials and best practices for utilizing these tools and other social media activities, and coordinate their election coverage. It’s basically an extranet for PBS and NPR stations, along with other public media partners. Last but not least, PBS will be creating curricular materials for some of these online modules so they can be used in classroom settings.
I am so glad to see this project announced publicly. I’ve been working on this for the better part of the last nine months, and it’s so gratifying to see so many entities across the public media system coming together to improve our election coverage, while providing the public with interactive tools to help them make a more informed decision when going into the ballot box. This year is going to be a total blast. -andy

December 21, 2007

Highlights from the NPR Utterz-Twitter Experiment

Filed under: Blogging,Cool Tools,Mobcasting — Andy Carvin @ 4:49 pm

This week, NPR’s Morning Edition will air a series on the 10th anniversary of the word “weblog” and the impact of blogging over the last decade. I’ve been helping the producers in a variety of ways, like writing a timeline tracing blogging’s origins, tracking down interesting bloggers for them to interview and writing a story on my own experience with blogging over the years. (I’ll post links to them once they go online.)
I also sat down with a producer from Morning Edition to do a demo of the mobile audio blogging service Utterz and the microblogging tool Twitter. We were curious to see what kinds of responses we’d get from Utterz Twitter users to this question: “What are you doing for New Year’s Eve, and what do you wish you were doing?” We got 70 replies, and I thought I’d share some of the highlights.
For Utterz, I recorded the question as a voicemail over my mobile phone, which then got cross-posted onto my Utterz page, my blog and my Twitter account.
We got 42 replies to the question this way, including this one from video blogger Jonny Goldstein, who talks about attending a Chinese banquet with his in-laws:

Wendy Drexler, a teacher in Florida, described a trip she’s taking to Maine:

Fricka, who designs apparel for gamers, recalls how she spent one New Year’s eve helping a mother and baby after their car caught on fire:

It should come as no surprise that Hawaiian blogger InfinityPro is happy to be home in Hawaii:

In contrast, technology evangelist Len Edgerly would prefer to toast the new year with Barack Obama:

One Utterz user who goes by the name “rcow” doesn’t know what he’s doing because his wife plans all of their social engagements:

Jennifer Sardam, who writes the literary blog Observed in Books, plans to work on her reading goals for 2008, even though she’d rather be celebrating another new year in Germany:

Over at Twitter, meanwhile, I received 28 replies. Some of my favorites:

kthread: happy to be ringing in the new year partying with close friends at my house, attempting to make this: http://tinyurl.com/39rcsu
leh4: What I wish I were doing: scuba diving somewhere WARM. what i’m actually doing: moving into my new apt
karynromeis: I’m going to a party at my church. I wish I was going to a party with my friends back in Cape Town!
vgloucester: Probably sleeping – probably sleeping…lol.
ruby: I’ll be at the beach with my friends and our families for the 11th New Year’s in a row! It’s ritual of laziness+food+drink+love.
ryanne: we don’t have plans yet, but probably something low key!
ClareLane: Going to Sedona for R&R with nature and spirit and college roomie and our hubbies. Am very happy doing just that Thanks!
jonnygoldstein (supplementing his Utterz post): i’m will be in NYC. Going to Chinese midnight banquet with my wife and in laws. Wish I was going to be inebriated at some blow out.
digitalmaverick: I’ll be, as every true Scot, wearing my kilt and singing Auld Lang Syne at a party, then at the bells I’ll 1st Foot my neighbours
kanter: raising money for cambodian orphans http://tinyurl.com/yryffz
jensimmons: I’m sleeping on much of New Years, recovering from hauling all my stuff to Jersey. I’m thinking about heading to a yoga retreat.
Darshell: Hope to be going out with the hubby- dinner, dancing, etc but will probably be home with the kids. Who wants to babysit new year’s?
Karoli: staying home watching the ball drop on the high-def TV. wish I were going to Corona del Mar and chilling
tigerbeat: not sure yet. Probably be up late enough to listen to the 3 am feed of Morning Edition on KQED. Wish i were somewhere warm & sunny
JoeGermuska: spending it in with friends, which is just the way I like it
BrassT: Watching movies and playing boardgames with the kids and hubby :-) How late will the kids sleep if I let them stay up til 12?

But my favorite reply came in the form of two responses from blogger/artist Susan Reynolds:

NEW YEARs eve home in VA recovering from breast cancer surgery but encouraged by all of you. Twitter pea avatars = VISIBLE Support
NEW YEARs eve – what I wish I was doing? I can’t imagine feling more loved, so no celebration could be better

For those of you who don’t follow Twitter, about two weeks ago Susan announced via Twitter that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would have surgery on December 21. Susan even created a blog called Boobs on Ice to document her sudden transformation into a cancer patient, including how she soothed the pain of her biopsies by using bags of frozen peas as a compress.
Almost immediately, the Twitter community responded. Dozens of people started changing their profile picture to show them with a bag of frozen peas, to show their solidarity with Susan. That gesture then morphed into a photo sharing group on Flickr, which now has almost 300 pictures of Twitter users with their bags of peas.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for Utterz to get into the mix. NBC cameraman Jim Long, better known to the Twitter community as NewMediaJim, recorded an impromptu interview with Susan using Utterz, just after she finished her pre-op visit:

By the time Susan’s surgery took place on the 21st, Twitter users had organized a fundraising campaign called the Frozen Pea Fund, asking people to donate to the American Cancer Society in Susan’s name. Nearly 120 people donated more than $3500 in the first 24 hours. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of Twitter and Utterz as tools for building community, I’m not sure what would. -andy

October 30, 2007

Using Flickr Photos to Make a 3D Model of the World

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 7:59 pm

New Scientist magazine published a fascinating article yesterday about a group of scientists who are using photos from Flickr to create 3D models of objects like Notre Dame cathedral or the duomo in Pisa, Italy. Normally, 3D modeling is an arduous process that involves setting up cameras at carefully selected locations, each offering a different angle and view. By arranging the cameras in a precise way, it’s possible to use computers to stitch together a detailed model of the object in three dimensions.
This type of 3D modeling makes sense when you’re trying to map out an object of a limited size, such as a car, but what if you wanted to make a 3D map of the entire world? Using traditional methods, this would be impossible, since it’s totally impractical to send out teams of trained individuals all over the world with their cameras deployed in a mathematically precise way.
So a group of researchers in Washington state and Germany decided to try a new approach. Photo sharing sites like Flickr contain millions of photos taken by members of the public. Consequently, certain places frequented by tourists have been photographed many thousands of times from innumerable angles. Notre Dame, for example, is featured in more than 200,000 photos in Flickr – and the researchers know that because many Flickr users have taken the time to tag their pics as such.
The team created software that would ingest all the photos contained in Flickr tagged for a particular object. It would then examine each photo to see if it contained an angle that would be useful for modeling. Some photos would get eliminated because they featured a person in them, were blurry or exposed inappropriately, but anything else that was within an acceptable range would be analyzed in comparison with other photos. The system would then connect the dots and create a 3D model.
“The system provides an opportunity to use the billions of user-contributed images available online to ‘reconstruct the world’ without relying on specialised equipment,” researcher Michael Goesele told New Scientist. “The quality of the reconstructions we can achieve from mere internet data is comparable to models acquired with traditional methods such as very expensive laser scanning systems. Overall, we see this as a very first step into an exciting new area – think of reconstructing Rome from the about one million images available on Flickr alone.”
So far, the results are impressive. But don’t expect to see certain details like color and contrast. Instead, they look more they’re cast in wax: perfectly proportioned but monochrome and gummy. Here’s Notre Dame: the real thing and the 3D model. Click on the model for a more detailed view.


On the project’s website, you can view several other examples of objects they’ve renderered, as well as a video in which you can zoom in on the details of Notre Dame’s facade.
I find all of this really intriguing, not only from the perspectives of technological innovation and crowdsourcing, but from a copyright perspective as well. For example, the Notre Dame model is based on more than 650 photos, selected from the original pool of 200,000 potential photos. Given that this was done for research, I think the scientists could easily make the case that it’s a situation of fair use. But what if Google Maps wanted to take this technology and apply it to their own 3D model of the world? That would mean that photos taken by you, me and lots of other people would be analyzed, processed and rendered into a derivative work. Would such a commercial effort require permission of every photographer involved?
Given the fact that millions of Flickr photos have been licensed under various Creative Commons licenses, that might make this easier to sort out. For example, any photo licensed with a “no derivatives” requirement could be filtered out. Photos licensed merely with an attribution requirement would be the easiest to deal with, but you’d still have to be able to point to a list of all the Flickr users whose work contributed to the effort. You could also base it entirely on photos that were licensed with noncommercial or “share-alike” requirements, but any 3D models produced using those photos would have to follow those rules as well.
No matter how you slice it, though, one thing seems certain – it would be hard for the producer of a 3D model developed this way to claim sole ownership of it. These models wouldn’t exist without the contributions of countless individual photographers, most of whom probably have no idea that they contributed in the first place. So if one were to make a model of the whole world, employing millions of photos from millions of people, we’d all have an ownership stake in it, even if it’s just a small visual share. Who knows – maybe those pics you took on your last vacation may actually end up part of a public good. -andy

March 10, 2007

Can Twitter Save Lives?

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 11:03 am

Some of you may have noticed a colored badge in my blog’s right column that shows what I’ve been doing recently. If you haven’t explored it further, it’s from a messaging service called Twitter – and I’m beginning to wonder if it could be used to save lives. Seriously.

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February 24, 2007

Map Your Local Media Moguls

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 12:16 pm

Drew Clark of the Center for Public Integrity is now talking about their media tracker tool. Put in your zip code and it’ll generate a map of your local media outlets and who owns them. I did a search for Washington DC. Along with the map, it gave me some interesting stats about the DC area:

  • 26 licensed television stations

  • 47 licensed radio stations
  • 1 matching cable community
  • 17 reported broadband providers
  • 30 newspapers within 100 miles

And the companies with the biggest piece of the local broadcast pie:

  • Clear Channel Communications Inc. : nine stations

  • CBS Corporation: eight
  • Radio One, Inc: four
  • Bonneville Radio (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints): four
  • Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission: three

Try it yourself and get informed. -andy

February 9, 2007

JD Lasica and the Story of OurMedia.org

Filed under: Citizen Journalism,Cool Tools,Video — Andy Carvin @ 10:07 am

Watch the video
An interview with social media advocate JD Lasica discussing the history of the pioneering video and podcasting service OurMedia.org, which he co-founded in 2005.

January 8, 2007

Second Life, Meet James Cameron. James Cameron, Second Life.

Filed under: Cool Tools — Andy Carvin @ 3:56 pm

The same day that Hollywood director James Cameron announces that he’s starting work on a $200 film that will be shot in an immersive virtual reality environment, Second Life reveals that they’re releasing their immersive VR environment as open source. Coincidence? You decide. Either way, Iooking forward to seeing Cameron plug the two together so Second Life avatars can serve as movie extras. -andy

November 25, 2006

Sitting for a Musical Portrait by Pete Townshend

Filed under: Cool Tools,Podcasts — Andy Carvin @ 5:44 pm

This afternoon I helped compose a song with Pete Townshend of The Who.
Okay, not exactly. It was actually with Pete’s computer.
I can see you’re skeptical, so I better provide some context. To do that, we’re gonna have to go all the way back to 1971, the year I was born. Because that was when Townshend began work on a musical project known as Lifehouse.
The Who had just found great success with their rock opera, Tommy, and Townshend was now working on a new musical project called Lifehouse. A science fiction story in which the world has suffered an ecological disaster, Lifehouse included a major plot line based around the idea that the world’s music was controlled by a small group of powerful media conglomerates, which in turn pumped its mediocre muzak into the minds of humanity. (In some ways it’s similar to Rush’s 2112 album, which came out in the late 70s, without the Ayn Rand influence.)
Pete explains:

“The essence of the story-line was a kind a futuristic scene…. It’s a fantasy set at a time when rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist. The world was completely collapsing and the only experience that anybody ever had was through test tubes. They lived TV programs, in a way. Everything was programmed. The enemies were people who gave us entertainment intravenously, and the heroes were savages who’d kept rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force and had gone to live with it in the woods. The story was about these two sides coming together and having a brief battle.”

As part of their revolutionary struggle, the heroes of the story utilized a technological weapon called The Method, which would combat the soulless music they were literally being force-fed.
“What Lifehouse was about, at its root, was to reaffirm that what’s important is that music reflects its audience as absolutely and completely as possible,” Townshend explains on his website. In the early 70s, he was exploring Sufi mysticism, which no doubt put him in touch with qawwali music, like that of the famed Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whom I got to interview in 1992. Qawwali concerts, which often extend to four hours or more, intend to use the trance-like power of lengthy musical performances to bring the performers and audience into a state of spiritual ecstasy. This, of course, is often a complete contrast to rock concerts, where performers and the audience show up, do their thing and leave. Townshend says:

Standing on stage and waving your arms about is wearing a bit thin, I think. There’s going to have to be a way of listening to music which doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to face in a particular direction, there’s going to have to be a way of listening to music that doesn’t mean that you have to go out to a concert hall between eight and ten in the evening. I’ve seen moments in Who concerts where the vibrations were becoming so pure that I thought the world was just going to stop, the whole thing was just becoming so unified. But you could never reach that state because in the back of their minds everybody knew that the group was going to have to stop soon, or they’d got to get home or catch the last bus or something – it’s a ridiculous situation.

For various reasons, Lifehouse didn’t come together as planned, even though Townshend composed many songs for the rock opera. Instead, these songs were published as part of the album Who’s Next, arguably one of the greatest rock albums of all time. But Lifehouse – and the musical weapon known as The Method – never fully vanished from Townshend’s creative consciousness.
This brings us to last February, when Townshend was wrapping up work on his novel, The Boy Who Heard Music. The novel was released chapter-by-chapter on a blog, and he invited the public to comment on the story and help improve it. When the novel was complete, Townshend announced that some of the bloggers who participated in the story’s development would be invited to participate in his next project – the rebirth of The Method as online software that would interpret the images and sounds submitted by a person and convert it into music.
As I explained on my blog:

A partnership between Townshend, programmer Dave Snowdon and composer Lawrence Ball, The Method will perform musical works generated by a computer based on interactions with a real person, referred to by Townshend as a “sitter.” Initially the website will feature works generated by The Method through interactions with Lawrence Ball and others, but Townshend plans to invite bloggers to “sit” with The Method and generate music of their own. At least that’s the way I understand it from his description on his blog. From what I’ve heard of Lawrence Ball’s work, his music is reminsicent of Erik Satie and Arvo Part. Adding Pete Townshend to the mix, along with a community of 500 bloggers, will hopefully lead to some exciting, unusual results.

Yesterday, I received an email informing me that I was being invited to serve as one of the first beta-testers of The Method. I’d have a chance to “sit” and have three musical portraits painted for me. So this afternoon, I logged into and gave it a shot. The website asked me to upload a series of original audio clips, as well as a photo. This data would then be interpreted by the website to create an original electronic composition. I wasn’t sure if it would take the content I gave it and sample it, or just be inspired by it. First, I supplied it with a photo of me from my honeymoon. I then gave it three audio clips:

  • A loop of me saying “The moving walkway is ending; please look down.”
  • A sample of me doing babytalk to Kayleigh, and her response.
  • A loop of a Tunisian malouf trio I recorded in Tunisia last year.

Once this was done, The Method went to work, composing an original work based on my inputs. The result is this song. It’s just over five minutes long, and is very reminiscent of the work of Terry Riley, Michael Nyman and Phillip Glass, each of whom often utilize electronic-like repetition in their compositions. Personally, I like the piece a lot, though I can see how people might dismiss it as being too repetitive. (It also has some crackle noises at the beginning, which must have occurred when The Method saved the mp3 file.) I’ll be very curious to see if my future experiments with The Method produce similar results. I’ll have to go out of my way to submit a photo and audio samples that are very different from the ones I just used.
So what’s next? For one thing, The Method is still in beta, so it’s not totally ready for prime time yet. Eventually, more people will be invited to sit for musical portraits, and even be invited back repeatedly to work with Townshend and his collaborators to expand them into major works. They’ll also take their show on the road, doing live performances of some of the compositions, with sitters like me invited to attend and potentially participate.
Meanwhile, any musical works produced by The Method will be co-owned by Townshend and the sitter. For all practical purposes, that means that if you sit for a musical portrait, you can do whatever you choose with the results, as can Townshend. We just can’t veto the other’s uses of it. That way, we can both use it, refine it, sample it, license it and perform it. Not like I would ever say no to Pete if he wanted to incorporate it into a concert or anything like that. :-)
So that’s the result of my first experienced with networked musical composition. I can’t wait to do it again. -andy

October 12, 2006

Nokia N93 Experiment: Dual-Mode Self Portrait

Filed under: Cool Tools,Video — Andy Carvin @ 10:50 pm

Watch the video
This video is a pair of clips I shot with the Nokia N93 video phone. The first clip was recorded originally in mp4 format, which is very high resolution. As I was playing with the phone’s settings, I decided to switch it to its video phone mode, which records in a lower-resolution 3gp format. The video stopped recording, so I had to start shooting again. I’ve put the two clips together so you can compare the quality of the two modes, as well as seeing what the modes look like in a mirror. -andy
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