I remember the first time I found Global Voices. In 2004 I had been living in the former Soviet Union and was about to move to Bangkok. For the past few years I’d been working with local TV and radio stations in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and it was a big shift to focus on Southeast and East Asia. I needed a crash course in Asian current affairs. In the course of my research I came across a curious project called the North Korea Zone that aggregated and distilled information about North Korea, and functioned as a platform for conversation about that coverage. I was drawn to the site because it helped me to grasp a complicated international story quickly, and because it treated news coverage less as a product and more as a process.
Sadly, NKZone didn’t last long, but while it did, I was a fan. And when Rebecca MacKinnon, its author, helped launch Global Voices together with Ethan Zuckerman in the end of 2004, I followed from afar. At the time my work was all about helping local communities in Asia to gain access to media production, and to learn the skills necessary to build and run media outlets. As Global Voices emerged, I noticed that it had a similar ethos, but that it was able to link people without media institutions mediating their perspectives. As with NKZone, it became a go-to site to ground-truth my understanding of countries and news stories.
As I followed GV in its first years, something else happened: blogs went from being a peripheral Internet phenomenon to key tools to democratize media production and distribution. Internet access in the developing world also expanded enough have a mass impact on information flows. If media development had been all about creating media institutions and training professional staff to run them, suddenly, it was also about encouraging mass use of simple, nearly free tools to increase conversation, and disseminate all kinds of perspectives.
Global Voices was uniquely situated to take advantage of that shift. As a community made up primarily of volunteers, it could tap into diverse enthusiasms and ideas. It didn’t need to be guided by a complicated strategy, but simply to set out a few basic principles for action, as captured in its manifesto, and allow people to experiment, and play, in its space.
After years of benefiting from the enthusiasms and writing of GVers, 18 months ago I had the pleasure to become part of the community. I joined just as GV began a new phase of existence, leaving its original home at the Berkman Center and becoming an independent nonprofit organization. It’s been my job in that time to help GV to continue, and to preserve the spirit and energy of the project even as we’re faced with the reality of funding needs, increasing global presence, and the pressure that funding brings to articulate both a vision and a strategy. I’ve quickly learned that at GV, leadership is primarily expressed by listening, and by ensuring that the way we work is indicative of the kind of media we’d like to have – transparent, enthusiastic, open, considerate, and joyful.
In the past five years, GV has grown tremendously. It’s now a community with some 350 authors, editors, and translators all working together to prove the premise of GV that we can write the media we want into existence. In the last year alone, we’ve produced unique and vital coverage on stories from Gaza, Madagascar, Fiji, Iran, Guinea, Honduras, and Cuba. We now translate GV into 18 active languages, with another 10 in beta. Collectively, the GV family of sites has an average of 500,000 unique visitors per month. This year, we’ve also launched innovative new projects that explore the boundaries of citizen media, such as our Translation Exchange research initiative, our online freedom of expression advocacy platform, Threatened Voices, our Russian blogosphere project, RuNet Echo, our new collaborative research project, the Transparency and Technology Network, and finally, our new online freedom of expression award, Breaking Borders, in collaboration with Google.
GV is strong on participation, community, and new ideas, but it needs your help to continue. With the marking of our 5th anniversary, we both celebrate our origins and look forward to a future of innovations, new initiatives, and a strong, vital community that continues to grow size and diversity.
Our future may include a user community, original content in multiple languages, and initiatives that take advantage of emerging tools of media production. We’re certain to continue to tell the story of citizen media, as it morphs from blogs, to micro-blogging, to social media, to mapping, to collaborative, multi-user production.
We’re excited by all the things we don’t know, and we’re looking forward to helping to create the future of citizen media. We also want you to join us, whether as an author or translator, collaborator, financial supporter, or active reader.