On Friday I attended Making Media Now 2009, a single day conference for media makers (largely attended by documentary film folk from the Boston Area). MMN09 was a great experience – and I have to recommend that more social media and new media people attend in the future – there were some great filmmakers looking for partnerships with people who know how to get the word out using social media tools.
One of my favorite lectures was by Andy Carvin, head of the NPR Social Media Desk. Carvin talked to us about crowdsourcing. He pointed out that crowdsourcing is not new (the Longitude Prize was an early attempt at approaching a large group to solve a single problem). He also gave some great examples of projects that used crowdsourcing to create something new: Apps for Democracy, a crowdsourced project using DC government data, spawned several useful applications. Stumble Safely, one of the apps, uses data about traffic, local bars, and street lights to give people safe routes to walk home along when drunk. According to Carvin, the DC police actually use Stumble Safely when figuring out which areas to patrol at night.
Carvin works with reporters at NPR to use social media for their benefit – whether that means an entire 2008 election project, or working with a reporter who wants to find sources through Facebook or Twitter.
Carvin also told the story of how NPR got a fan page on Facebook. Evidently, an undergrad in the UK decided to “help” NPR by making the official fan page himself. Carvin emailed him, and the undergrad said when he tried to contact NPR about helping them get on facebook, he’d gotten an email thanking him for his support. He took that as a green light to make the official fan page himself. He promptly handed over the keys to Carvin, and went on his way. Carvin said this story shows that when people say they’re afraid of losing control online “You never had control in the first place.” People love and adore NPR, and sometimes, it’s impossible to hold back the crowd.