Giving Chickens Microphones

By now you may have heard of the innovative citizen-driven election monitoring system, Twitter Voter Report (they are getting great press cycles, with purportedly more to come).  I actually wrote up and submitted the post that appears on infosthetics.com, a wonderful blog that tracks innovations in data visualization.

This projects represents a really innovative use of Twitter as a “just-add-water” (gratis, but not truly free) infrastructure for distributed structured-data collection. It reminded me of a free platform a group at  UNICEF is building to collect distributed structured-data in the third world (for places w/out easy access to the internet, but with cellular connectivity) –  RapidSMS.

Imagine how many millions of dollars the government would have spent to build a cell-phone enabled election monitoring system (that likely wouldn’t work). Instead, a group of volunteer activists, weaned on the open-source, do-it-yourself culture of code jams, shared repositories, and issue trackers, decided less than a month ago that they could build this themselves on a shoestring.

This is definitely a big deal, and relates closely to a new tier of participatory media which I began to describe at my talk at CCNMTL’s New Media in Education conference this month. It also has everything in the world to do with the TagMaps tool I wrote about last November in my post Crowded Wisdom. Systems are coming online which are helping us synthesize vast volumes of tiny fragments of information into meaningful knowledge.

Twitter Vote Report allows anyone to report voter suppression, and problems with specific voting machines, but it support tracking wait times, which will be aggregated and mapped on the website.

Previously, when a voter had a complaint, he had to go through election officials who might have little incentive to admit a mistake – what tech executive Logan calls “a fox guarding the chickens” scenario.

“What this technology does,” he says, “is give the chickens a microphone.” [Baltimore Sun]

Finally, while we are on the topic, this was a great letter to the next president on what he can/should do with technology. How will President Obama utilize the historically unprecedented social networks he mobilized during his campaign?

Dear Mr. Tech President

For more information on Twitter Vote Report see their press page.

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