Microtasking: Redefining crowdsourcing practices in emergency management

Check out my paper with Mari Fitzpatrick on crowdsourcing practices in emergency management at https://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=815917622185255;res=IELHSS


This paper examines the roles, types and forms of virtual microtasking for emergency information management in order to better understand collective intelligence mechanisms and the potential for logistics response. Using three case studies this paper reviews the emerging body of knowledge in microtasking practices in emergency management to demonstrate how crowd-sourced information is captured and processed during emergency events to provide critical intelligence throughout the emergency cycle. It also considers the impact of virtual information collection, collation and management on traditional humanitarian operations and relief efforts.

Based on the case studies the emergent forms of microtasking for emergency information management were identified. Opportunities for continuities, adaptations and innovations are explained. The contribution of virtual microtasking extends to all supply chain strategic domains to help maximise resource use and optimise service delivery response.

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What are the benefits of sharing grant data openly?

Australasian Open Access Strategy Group

Marta Poblet and Amir Aryani talk about the importance of open sharing of grant data – a topic not often brought into the OA debate

Contacts on twitter: @mpoblet @amir_at_ands

Every year, the Australian Commonwealth and the State governments spend billions of dollars in grants to individuals, small business, communities, not-for-profits, universities, corporations, etc. Philanthropy organisations, nearly 5,000 in Australia, are giving approximately an extra billion dollars in grants.

Yet, to date the total, combined value of grants from the Commonwealth, the States, and the philanthropy sector can only be estimated. In 2014, the Australian National Audit Office noted that “the precise number and value of grants made by the Commonwealth Government in any one year is difficult to establish as details are contained in individual entity documents”. It also warned that  “the Commonwealth may be providing very significant subsidies for particular services or outcomes without a good understanding of the…

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Give me location data, and I will move the world

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Behind the success of the new wave of location based mobile apps taking hold around the world is digital mapping. Location data is core to popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, but also to companies such as Amazon or Domino’s Pizza, which are testing drones for faster deliveries.

Last year, German delivery firm DHL launched its first “parcelcopter” to send medication to the island of Juist in the Northern Sea. In the humanitarian domain, drones are also being tested for disaster relief operations.

Better maps can help app-led companies gain a competitive edge, but it’s hard to produce them at a global scale. A few select players have engaged in a fierce mapping competition. Google leads the race so far, but others are trying to catch up fast. Apple has enlarged its mapping team and renewed its licensing agreement with TomTom. TomTom has plans to 3D map European and North American freeways by next year.

DHL’s prototype ‘parcelcopter’ is a modified microdrone that costs US$54,900 and can carry packages up to 1.2kg. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

In Europe, German carmakers Audi, BMW and Mercedes agreed to buy Here, Nokia’s mapping business. The company had been coveted by Uber, which has gained mapping skills by acquiring deCarta and part of Microsoft Bing.

Further signs of the fever for maps are startups such as Mapbox, Mapsense, CartoDB, Mapillary, or Mapzen. The new mapping services are cloud-based, mobile-friendly and, in most cases, community-driven.

A flagship base map for the past ten years has been OpenStreetMap (OSM), also known as the “Wikipedia of mapping”. With more than two million registered users, OpenStreetMap aims to create a free map of the world. OSM volunteers have been particularly active in mapping disaster-affected areas such as Haiti, the Philippines or Nepal. A recent study reports how humanitarian response has been a driver of OSM’s evolution, “in part because open data and participatory ideals align with humanitarian work, but also because disasters are catalysts for organizational innovation”.

A map for the commons?

While global coverage remains uneven, companies such as Foursquare, Flickr, or Apple, among others, rely on OSM free data. The commercial uses of OSM primary data, though, do not come without ongoing debate among the community about license-related issues.

The steering wheel is seen resting in the middle of the dashboard inside a Rinspeed Budii self-driving electric city car in Geneva. Ard Wiegmann/Reuters

Intense competition for digital maps also flags the start of the self-driving car race. Google is already testing its prototypes outside Silicon Valley and Apple has been rumoured to work on a secret car project code named Titan.

Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon and Arizona Universities to work on vehicle safety and cheaper laser mapping systems. Tesla is also planning to make its electric cars self-driving.

The ultimate goal

Are we humans ready for this brave new world? Research suggests young people in North America, Australia and much of Europe are increasingly becoming less likely to hold a driver’s license (or, if they do, to drive less).

But even if a new generation of consumers were ready to jump in, challenges remain huge. Navigation systems will need to flawlessly process, in real time, position data streams of buildings, road signs, traffic lights, lane markings, or potholes. And all this seamlessly combined with ongoing sensing of traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, road works, or weather conditions. Smart mapping at its best.


Legal and ethical challenges are not to be underestimated either. Most countries impose strict limits on testing self-driving cars on public roads. Similar limitations apply to the use of civilian drones. And the ethics of fully autonomous cars is still in its infancy. Autonomous cars probably won’t be caught texting, but they will still be confronted with tough decisions when trying to avoid potential accidents. Current research engages engineers and philosophers to work on how to assist cars when making split-second decisions that can raise ethical dilemmas.

But the future of digital maps is not just on the go. Location-based service revenues are forecast to grow to €34.8 billion in 2020. The position data deluge of the upcoming geomobile revolution gives maps a new frontier: big data analytics. As Mapsense CEO Erez Cohen notes:

“the industry is much larger than the traditional GIS industry. It’s actually growing at a massive rate, and there are a massive number of new companies that need the services of mapping analytics because they’re generating all this location data.”

Digital mapping technology promises to unveil our routines, preferences, and consumer behaviour in an unprecedented scale. Staggering amounts of location data will populate our digital traces and identities. The impact on our lives, organisations, and businesses is yet to be fully understood, but one thing is sure: the geomobile revolution will be mapped.

The ConversationMarta Poblet

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El moment constitucional

Catalunya viu un moment constitucional sense precedents, derivat d’un procés polític inèdit i transitat d’incògnites. Un temps únic d’efervescència d’iniciatives, projectes i debats sobre allò que s’esdevé, potser, una vegada (o menys) per generació: com fer una nova constitució.


Arreu, els moments constitucionals reflecteixen el present d’un país i en projecten el futur. A Catalunya, el moment constitucional emergeix des de la ciutadania de forma horitzontal i heterogènia. Les iniciatives recents se solapen en el temps i conflueixen en l’objectiu d’accionar una etapa constituent a partir de propostes i esborranys de constitucions.

El gener de 2015 es van presentar a Barcelona dues iniciatives per a una nova constitució: constitució.cat i unanovaconstitucio.cat. Hi ha alguns precedents de propostes de constitució elaborades per organitzacions polítiques, però el que caracteritza les dues noves iniciatives, elaborades en ambdós casos per un grup reduït de juristes, és l’ús de plataformes digitals per a difondre la proposta, i sobretot, per obrir-la a la participació dels ciutadans a través de comentaris, esmenes i vots.


Screenshot 2015-07-09 09.44.30





L’ús de plataformes digitals en el procés d’elaboració de constitucions es va iniciar a principis d’aquesta dècada. A Europa, el cas paradigmàtic és Islàndia, on els progressos diaris del Consell Constitucional es podien consultar en una web que, alhora, permetia comentaris dels ciutadans a traves de les xarxes socials. A la resta del món, simultàniament, es van desenvolupar iniciatives similars. Aquesta crida a la ciutadania a participar al procés constituent a través de les xarxes socials es coneix en anglès com a “constitutional crowdsourcing” (per crowd—multitud, gernació— més outsourcing, externalització).

Tot i els precedents medievals que es citen en una de les iniciatives, les propostes de gener de 2015 s’allunyen radicalment de les constitucions paccionades de la tradició de dret públic català. Es tracta, mes aviat, de constitucions gernaccionades, textos que volen posar en marxa una etapa constituent a partir de la participació d’una gernació o multitud indeterminada de ciutadans.

El constitucionalisme democràtic del segle XXI, com afirmen els signants de la Convenció Constitucional, aspira a ser “participatiu des de l’origen fins al final” per tal d’expandir la legitimitat social del procés constituent. Les eines tecnològiques que els ciutadans tenen al seu abast faciliten mecanismes de participació fins ara no explorats. No es tracta només de poder comentar propostes d’articles en fòrums o xarxes socials, sinó d’escriure el propi text. De manera limitada, i a més de votar articles, unanovaconstitucio.cat permet fer un màxim de cinc esmenes per usuari. Si s’estableixen els procediments adequats, no hi ha cap raó que impedeixi que, via esmena o proposta, milers de persones (fins i tot centenars de milers) s’involucrin activament en la redacció d’un esborrany de constitució.

Els reptes, alhora, són considerables. Com incentivar una participació a gran escala? Com assegurar la rellevància i la qualitat de la participació? Com assegurar la coherència, la precisió i la consistència d’un text escrit per una gernació? Quin ha de ser el rol dels experts al llarg del procés? Com canalitzar, en definitiva, la intel·ligència col·lectiva i la saviesa de les multituds? Jon Elster va afirmar una vegada que “si hi ha una tasca per a la qual la saviesa sembla altament desitjable, aquesta és la d’escriure una constitució”. És el moment de la saviesa col.lectiva.

Marta Poblet

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We the crowd? Constitution making 2.0

This is an update of the post I wrote on crowdsourced constitutional reform in 2011. Constitution-making can be broadly defined as a set of activities intended to produce a constitution, the highest law of a state. To the UN Rule of Law, constitution-making “covers both the process of drafting and substance of a new constitution, or reforms of an existing constitution”.

Over the last five years, crowdsourced constitution making initiatives have been deployed in 15 countries across the world: Iceland, Kenya, Ghana, Somalia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Malawi, Zambia, Yemen, Nepal, Fiji, Ecuador, and Bolivia (see the USIP Report on “New Technologies for Constitution Making”). The Chilean government has just announced its plan to launch in September 2015 “a new, citizens-driven process to create a new constitution”.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 13.01.04

Crowdsourced constitution making processes (2010-2015)

To be sure, these participatory processes are not new in constitution making. South Africa or Uganda, among other countries, launched participatory campaigns to collect public input for their new constitutions in the 1990s.

So what is in between of these two decades of participatory constitution making? The rapid, unprecedented adoption of mobile technologies and social media. In the effort to make constitution making as participatory as possible, this new wave of crowdsourced initiatives have all taped on social media (and, wherever Internet connections were fragile, e-mail and text messages) to collect comments from the public. In most cases, and regardless of the final number of participants, thousands of comments were posted and eventually collected.

Crowdsourced constitution making allows people to comment, “like” or vote articles in a constitutional draft. The processes typically rely on online deliberation over a draft that is elaborated elsewhere, usually by a constitutional commission. But the impact of such deliberative processes on the final outcome is yet to be fully understood and requires a case-by-case analysis.

An alternative to crowdsourcing the deliberation process could be microtasking the constitution itself. Microtasking is a process consisting of defining a relatively complex task and dividing it into smaller and independent micro-tasks. When it comes to constitutions, this process could be relatively straightforward since they are already divided into sections and articles. People could take these articles and amend, modify, or rewrite them at their will. In this paper we propose a task-oriented approach to crowdsource the drafting of a constitution and we consider some of the challenges that such a process would face. But further research would also require to tackle substantive issues on how to coordinate the crowd itself: (i) motivation; (ii) incentives to participate; (ii) relevance and quality of the contributions; (iii) monitoring spam and sabotage attempts, etc. The ultimate challenge is how to engage the crowds’ collective wisdom in drafting such a high-impact legal document as a national constitution.


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Catalonia in Europe: who will play the game?

By Reagrupament Internacional

The future relationship with the EU is a core issue in today’s debate about the independence of Catalonia. The slogan of the 2012 rally in Barcelona was “Catalonia, next state of Europe”, echoing the majoritarian desire within the independentist movement to be part of the EU.

The recently released White Book on the National Transition (very much in line with Scotland’s Future published last year by the Scottish Government) contains a specific 50-pages report on the different scenarios for integration into the EU (the report considers 4 different scenarios ranging from swift accession to exclusion sine die). Both the Catalan government and the independentist movement expected that a victory of the “yes” in the Scottish referendum would had paved the way for a model of smooth accession to the EU. As this didn’t happen, Catalonia will need to make its own way.

In a nutshell, the White Book considers two premises:

  • There is no provision in EU treaties on the secession of a territory from a member state (even if Europe has witnessed the emergence of a number of new states since 1990s). There are provisions to join (art. 49TEU) and to leave (art. 50TEU) but not “to stay” as a new state, so to speak.
  • The flexibility and pragmatism of the EU. As Graham Avery recently put it, “the policy of the European institutions is not to have a policy” (deliciously ironic, since Avery writes as a Senior Advisor of the European Policy Center). As he goes on, the implicit policy seems to be “initial reluctance followed by pragmatic acceptance, provided that the process can be considered as constitutional”.

Premise one focuses on the law, while premise two emphasizes politics. The statements by EU authorities can also reflect this oscillation. This is notably the case of former EU Commission President Mr. Barroso. In a written answer given on August 28th 2012 on behalf of the Commission, Barroso confirmed “that in the hypothetical event of a secession of a part of an EU Member State, the solution would have to be found and negotiated within the international legal order. Any other consideration related to the consequences of such event would be of a conjectural nature”. Pragmatism to its fullest.

In a letter addressed to Lord Tugendhat only 3 months later (10 December 2012) he stated that “if a part of the territory of a Member State would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the Treaties would no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory”. Leges sunt servanda.

So who will play the game? In Spain, that’s lawyers, for sure. There are figures no one seems to pay much attention: last year, there were more than 42,000 registered lawyers in Madrid and more than 23,000 in Catalonia. With more than 147,000 lawyers registered in Bar associations, Spain ranks number two in Europe when it comes to lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants (only second to Luxembourg, which hosts the European Court of Justice and a large banking system). The figures do not include law graduates and legal professionals not paying fees to the Bar.

Most popular questions these days on the public debate on Catalan independence: Is this move constitutional or unconstitutional? Should the [Spanish/Catalan] government appeal? On what grounds? And what do EU Treaties say? The debate has been hijacked by endless legal arguments, and a large army of lawyers make their legal points in cabinets, in parliament, in courts, and in the media. Law has engulfed politics. Leges prevail over pacts.

Dear lawyers, fair enough. But… knock knock Europe… anyone else in the house?

Marta Poblet

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Catalans step up independence push despite Spain’s firm ‘no’

By Marta Poblet, RMIT University and Pompeu Casanovas, RMIT University

This article was first published on The Conversation on 11 th September 2014

V-day in Barcelona, by Maria Poblet

V-day in Barcelona, by Maria Poblet

For three years in a row, Catalans have taken to the streets on September 11, Catalonia’s national day (the Diada). The 2012 rally for independence gathered an estimated 1.5 million people in Barcelona. The 2013 human chain linked 1.6 million people in a 400-kilometre stretch that revisited the 1989 Baltic Way.

This year, an even larger crowd is expected to form a massive 11-kilometre V-shape along two of Barcelona’s main avenues. Today carries a weighty political symbolism: it commemorates 300 years since the defeat of the Catalan troops that had supported the Habsburg candidate in the Spanish War of Succession.

The fall of Barcelona in 1714 marks the beginning of a harsh repression and the abolition of all Catalan political institutions by the Bourbons regime. According to legal historians, Catalans were not punished as rebels, but rather as enemies subject to the international right of conquest (ius belli). The territory was then annexed to the laws of Castilia.

by @ganyet


Yet, in today’s rally, V will stand for both “vote” and, ultimately, “victory” in a referendum on pursuing independence, which was agreed by a majority of the Catalan parties and scheduled for November 9. The organisers are the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural, two of the civil society organisations that have taken the lead of a movement that combines the communitarian tradition of human towers, sardanas, chorus, or civic associations with a cosmopolitan outlook that spreads its campaigns, slogans and memes across global social networks.

Polls have consistently shown majority support for the referendum. The Catalan Parliament is about to pass the consultation law to provide legal coverage. But the answer from Madrid will remain no.

The Spanish government has been fiercely opposed to any type of consultation. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has reassured his ranks by declaring that all necessary measures to block Catalan secession have been taken.

Presumably, such measures include recourse to the Constitutional Court, which has already deemed unconstitutional many sections of the Catalan Statute in its famous 2010 ruling. And they could go so far as declaring suspension of the region’s autonomy and prohibiting the Catalan President from holding office, should he decide to go ahead with the consultation on secession.

Given the present deadlock, the stakes are higher than ever; summer has not brought the usual silence of the crickets. In late July, former Catalan president Jordi Pujol, standard bearer of Catalan nationalism for decades, released a letter to the press confessing that he had hidden overseas millions of euros from an inheritance. Other family members, notably two of his sons, were already being investigated on alleged charges of corruption and money laundering.

The revelations came as a shock for the ruling coalition, Convergence and Union (CiU), and as a timely weapon to brandish against the independence movement. Whether the scandal will undermine its expectations of the referendum is not yet clear.

In such a complex scenario, any diplomatic faux pas in the international arena deepens the stalemate. For months, Catalan citizens and representatives abroad have been complaining about Spanish diplomatic pressures and vetoes on political and cultural events.

Victus, by Albert Sánchez Piñol


The latest episode involves the best-selling Victus, an acclaimed novel set in Barcelona, 1714. The presentation of the book in the Netherlands hit the Dutch press headlines when the Spanish embassy forced the Instituto Cervantes in Utrecht to cancel the event. Writer Albert Sánchez Piñol and his Dutch editor smelled censorship.

The Spanish embassy claimed to have “postponed” the event due to the “sensitive” political circumstances. In Madrid, El Pais newspaper described the incident as a “supreme blunder”. Ironically, PM Mariano Rajoy declared in an interview last year that he had enjoyed reading the book during his summer holiday in Galicia.

A week after the September 11 Diada, the Scots will open their polling stations to vote in their referendum on independence. In Catalonia, all eyes will be on them. A victory for the “yes” movement will be seen by President Mas as helping to pave the way for negotiations with both Madrid and Brussels. And if adherence to the Union prevails, La Moncloa will take a breather as deep as the one expected in Downing Street.

Yet no result will be conclusive anywhere. Both the “no” and the “yes” votes open a number of scenarios for Scotland that will require negotiation at different levels. Neither outcome will resolve the deadlock in Catalonia. The massive V in the streets of Barcelona will have dissolved by then, but the public expectations will still need to be managed.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Leveraging Big Data in disasters: Working around the clock in Philippines

[Cross posted at the Money, Data, and Privacy blog]

Big data from social media is increasingly used in disaster management procedures. The speed at which big social data feeds travel across the networks has already been leveraged at the early warning stage by agencies such as the United States Geological Survey, which is currently developing a system to detect earthquakes by monitoring Twitter real-time information from local users.  In Australia, the CSIRO is also testing emergency situation awareness (ESA) software to sense unusual events in the Twitter stream and alert users in the emergency services.

The potential of processing social media data in the phases of early warning and immediate response is huge. Big data can contribute to provide the big picture, while offering at the same time granular, real-time information at the local level. However, processing such an amount of information can largely exceed the capacities of most agencies and response organizations, especially in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The Typhoon Haiyan that is currently hitting the Philippines is the most updated example of how relief organizations can leverage the resources of the crowds to scan social media, tag tweets and images, geolocate events, translate keywords for monitoring, etc. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has requested the activation of the Digital Humanitarian Network, which coordinates volunteer organizations around the world  (SBTFOpenStreetMapGISCorpsHumanity Road,  Info4DisastersTranslators without BordersStatistics Without BordersDisaster Tech Lab, etc.) to participate in the effort.

Mapping Tacloban with OpenStreetMap (before and after Haiyan)
Mapping Tacloban with OpenStreetMap (before and after Haiyan)

At this present moment digital volunteers from these organizations are working around the clock in a number of different tasks (see this post to learn who is doing what) and using new applications specifically developed for disaster response purposes. Two of these apps, the TweetClicker and the ImageClicker (recently developed by Patrick Meier’s team at the Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute) allow any member of the crowd to tag tweets and images with just a click. While still in a testing phase, these technologies are opening up a new frontier in the use of big data for disaster response.

Marta Poblet

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Crowdfunding Culture in Catalonia: The Revival of Civil Society?

[Updated version appeared in the Journal of Catalan Intellectual History, vol. 7, 2014]

When Antoni Gaudi took over the Sagrada Familia project in 1883,  the initially planned neo-Gothic church—which had come into existence by a private initiative in 1860—steadily transformed into one of the most sophisticated architectural endeavors of the 20th century. The project relied entirely on charitable donations, so rapid completion of the temple had never been envisaged. As Gaudi once declared, “the expiatory church of la Sagrada Familia is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people”.[1] For more than a century now, Barcelona’s most iconic temple has been raised with small donations from people, and final completion is just an estimate: sometime between the years 2026 and 2028.

Sagrada Familia from Park Güell

Sagrada Familia from Park Güell

Donations, subscriptions, fundraising campaigns, etc. are all based on the idea to collect money from large groups of people to support projects and initiatives. In the last few years, though, the term “crowdfunding” has gained popularity when referring to the effort of channeling a myriad of droplets into the bucket. Crowdfunding also taps into the collective resources of the crowd to raise money for innumerous causes: produce a film or an album, organize a concert, publish a book, launch a satellite, test seaweeds as a potentially sustainable food, or build a submarine to explore the ocean depths, to mention just a few of them. Crowdfunding is about engaging people to contribute to projects, usually by donating small amounts of money. What then distinguishes crowdfunding from other traditional fundraising campaigns?

A distinctive component of the new generation of crowdfunding models is its symbiotic relation with the Web 2.0, also known as the “social Web”. Crowdfunding thrives into the conversational streams of the social web and contributes to generate new ones.  Unlike precedent fundraising campaigns, crowdfunding fully embraces seamless connectivity and interaction: donors are certainly expected to contribute, but they are also encouraged to comment, ask, share, and participate. And, by actively engaging people, crowdfunding open calls are able to build new online communities, which in turn contribute to expand the social graph.  In the end, a successfully achieved crowdfunding goal is more than the sum of its donations: it is a shared co-production.

While both the goals and the expected outcomes of crowdfunding campaigns are usually anchored to the physical world, none of them would happen without harnessing the vast resources of the Web 2.0. From a technology standpoint, the tools of the Web 2.0 have lowered the barriers to online fundraising: in its simplest form, it may take to set a web page and a payment gateway to channel contributions, even if this will need to be supported with a sustained effort of planning, sharing, and engaging through social networks. In a few years, though, a number of online platforms especially dedicated to support collective fundraising have fueled the emergence of new crowdfunding models. Kickstarter, the world’s largest and most popular crowdfunding platform, was founded in New York in 2009.  At present, there are approximately 450 active platforms worldwide, and by the end of 2013 they will globally raise an annual estimate of 5.1 billion US$ for social causes (30%), business and entrepreneurship (16.9%), films and performing arts (11.9%), music and recording arts (7.5%), energy and environment (5.9%) and other initiatives (28%).[2] The dominant players are the North American and European platforms, with 59% and 35% of the market share respectively.[3]

A most striking fact is that, as of July 2013, 33 of these 450 crowdfunding platforms were  based in Catalonia or had set a foot there (I take stock here from comprehensive previous research by Hector Muñoz, founder of Crowdacy). With a population of 7.5 million, this ratio makes Catalonia a special case in point calling for further examination. Why such a rich crowdfunding ecosystem has emerged in Catalonia over the past three years? Although there is little data on the detailed number of crowdfunding campaigns, percentage of successful outcomes, volume of funds raised per platform, etc. one of the pioneering platforms, Verkami, provides some hints on the phenomenon.

Crowdfunding platforms in Catalonia (as of July 2013)

Crowdfunding platforms in Catalonia (as of July 2013)

Verkami was launched in December 2010 in Mataró (Barcelona) by the initiative of “a father and his two sons: Joan, Adrià and Jonàs Sala, a biologist, an art historian and a physicist”.[4] None of them had previous experience in crowdfunding, but they realized that their initiative—inspired by the success of Kickstarter and the like in North America—could fill a gap in Catalonia.  Two years later, with more than 1,200 projects and 5.49 € million raised from more than 141.000 patrons—as contributors are known in the platform—Verkami has become the largest crowdfunding platform in South Europe.[5] According to its founders, “Verkami campaigns represent a 75 percent of the total successful campaigns in Spain (from which 30-40 are Catalan projects, and nearly three out of four projects pledging funds in Verkami end up being funded”).[6] No surprise, then, if the expression “let’s make a verkami” has become trendy among the cultural and creative milieux.

Verkami was the platform that film producer Isona Passola chose to raise funds for L’endemà [The day after], a documentary on the scenario that an eventual independence of Catalonia would open.  After a 40-day campaign, the project collected 348,830 € from 8,101 backers, largely exceeding the initially pledged 150,000 €, and became the largest crowdfunded project in Europe. L’endemà illustrates how crowdfunding campaigns, by tapping profusely into social media, are able to strike a chord in audiences who share the values and goals that projects bear. In some cases, crowdfunding campaigns target inner circles of supporters and/or larger crowds of potential promoters of cultural and artistic initiatives (books, music, cinema, drama, dance, etc.); in some others, they rely on social media word of mouth to create new communities of support world-wide (as a personal aside, in a recent presentation of this work in Melbourne I used Liz Castro’s What’s up with Catalonia as an example of the latter. At the end of the event someone approached me with a big smile… holding a copy of the book under the arm).

The second largest project crowdfunded via Verkami was Ictineu III, a cutting-edge research submersible aimed at oceanographic exploration. Scientific research has only timidly started to venture into crowdfunding (but see this post to know more about Deakin University crowdfunded projects), so the success of Ictineu III is nonetheless impressive (more than 60,000 € raised). Actually, the tiny yellow submarine is presented in the web page project as the heir of a pride-awakening Catalan saga: “the first manned submersible built in Catalonia since Mr. Monturiol built the first Ictineos in 1859 and 1864”. Who could resist?

In Catalonia, crowdfunding platforms have blossomed under severe economic crisis, so dramatic cuts in public expenditure and R&D funding, together with the draining of credit by the banking sector may certainly have inclined creative, artistic, scientific, and entrepreneurial talent to consider crowdfunding as an alternative source. However, the recent economic downturn cannot be the only explanation of the phenomenon, since other European regions undergoing similar stresses have fell short of breeding such an ecosystem. Other variables should therefore be considered, such as the role played by the particularly dense network of groups, movements, organizations, associations, etc. that have traditionally articulated Catalan civil society. Perhaps paradoxically, the withdrawal of public entities as culture promoters, festival organizers, or event sponsors—especially at the municipal level, where the tendency to phagocytize the cultural sector has been predominant—has given Catalan civil society organizations a second wind. In this new context of forced devolution, crowdfunding platforms have timely lowered the technological barriers for these groups to take the lead, providing them with new tools to coordinate efforts, communicate, and disseminate. Nevertheless, and very much like the Sagrada Familia could not be fully understood without Gaudi’s reference to “the will of the people”, the analysis of the crowdfunding phenomenon in Catalonia requires a wider look to include the socio-political dimension of this new period into the picture.

Marta Poblet

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On algorithms and croquettes: hashtag battles in Twitter politics

On 11 September 2013, Catalonia’s national day, approximately 1,600,000 Catalans joined hands along Catalonia’s coastline to form “The Catalan Way towards Independence” a 400-kilometre (250-mile) human chain. The Catalan Way was inspired in the 1989 Baltic Way chain that called for the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Catalan Way aimed at being a massive tour de force to push for a referendum on secession from Spain, something that the government in Madrid fiercely opposes.


The Catalan Way in Barcelona (by Maria Poblet)

Everyone in Catalonia knew that, much like contemporary revolutions, the 400 kilometre human chain would be tweeted. Hashtags such as #CatalanWay or #ViaCatalana had already been popular during the previous days and were profusely used as hundreds of thousands were starting to gather along the pre-assigned line stretches to join hands. And yet, no trace of these topics could be found in Barcelona’s trending list.


Real-time visualization of topics and hashtags (11 September 2013, 17.14pm)

This kept some twitter users wondering whether the hashtags had been blocked or even censored, given that they were massively used and clearly popped up in trend maps and social media monitoring platforms:

In parallel, pro-unionist TV channels in Madrid were boosting their own ranks by proudly showing how the hashtag #somespanya (“wearespain”) reigned supreme in Barcelona as the Catalan Way unfolded.

Trending map of Twitter hashtags in Channel 13

Trending map of Twitter hashtags in Channel 13

Accusations of Twitter having censored trends or content have been made in the past, but Twitter Rules clearly establish that the service “will not censor user content, except in limited circumstances”. These circumstances are essentially abuse (i.e. serial or bulk accounts, targeted abuse, username squatting, etc.) and spam conducts, and Twitter reserves the right to suspend or terminate accounts without further notice if such practices are detected.

So why are trends not trending? Blame the algorithm instead of the policy. As Twitter puts it, “this algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis”. When it comes to real-time information, Twitter is sometimes as fast as wind and can sense an earthquake even before people can feel it, so its algorithm is more sensitive to sudden “text events” than to ongoing updates. As Ross Wilson writes, “it only really has time to process the raw data – tweet content, time posted, and topic hashtag. This means a lot less customization of search results is possible, and with no human curation to aid the trended topics list, the topics that make it to the list might not always be the topics readers are genuinely interested in.” A good seismograph, but not necessarily a reliable responder (and this should be taken into account when monitoring Twitter hashtags for disaster management).

What else can people do? They can think ahead and consider using alternative hashtags that have not yet received Twitter baptism. But carefully designed hashtags can go terribly wrong, in politics as in marketing, as the Spanish Popular Party or the McDonald’s  Twitter campaigns have proved.

Another possibility is spontaneous creativity. In Catalonia, as the human chain started to dissolve in the evening and people hang out for some light dinner, a local radio presenter humorously suggested to test the algorithm by using #croquetes (croquettes) instead of #ViaCatalana when posting updates on the event. The idea went immediately viral and #croquetes became a global trending topic.

So perhaps the lesson for political activists would be: Unless Twitter decides to tweak its algorithm, don’t cook your croquettes too early or you will have to swallow a much less yummy appetizer later on.

Visualization of hashtags and topics at 1.15 a.m, 12 September 2013


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